Energy Efficiency Improvements

Although energy intensity has declined in the United States over the past 30 years (EIA, 2009; NRC, 2009d), per capita consumption in the United States still exceeds that of almost all other developed countries. In addition, a considerable fraction of the intensity improvements in the United States may be due to the changing nature of demand (e.g., the shift away from manufacturing toward a service- and information-based economy) as well as increased imports of energy-intensive products and materials, which simply shift emissions to other locations. The recent report Real Prospects for Energy Efficiency in the United States (NRC, 2009c), part of the America's Energy Future suite of activities, carried out a comprehensive review of methods to improve energy efficiency in industry, buildings, and transportation sectors. The report concludes that energy efficient technologies in those sectors exist today that could be implemented without major changes in lifestyles and could reduce energy use in the United States by 30 percent by 2030. The companion report Limiting the Magnitude of Future Climate Change (NRC, 2010c) also discusses energy efficiency at length.

The building sector offers the greatest potential for energy savings through efficiency; options range from simple approaches like insulation and caulking, to the use of more efficient appliances and lighting, to changing patterns of building use. Investments in these areas could reduce energy use in residences by one-third, although systematic estimates that take account of both technological and behavioral changes have not been made. For example, participation in programs that subsidize weatherization with identical financial incentives can differ by an order of magnitude depending on how the programs are presented to the public (Stern et al., 1986). Efficiency improvements can be made through the development and use of more efficient devices, with more efficient systems for managing devices, and with changing patterns of useā€”all of which require both technological innovation and a better understanding of human behavior and institutions.

While implementation of current technologies holds immediate opportunities for reducing energy use and GHG emissions, new technological and scientific advances are likely to yield longer-term benefits. For example, the development of new materials for insulation, new kinds of lighting, fundamental changes in heating and cooling systems, computational technologies for energy systems management, and landscape architecture and materials for natural cooling could all contribute to major improve ments in energy efficiency. As noted in Chapter 13, energy efficiency advances are also possible in the next decade in the transportation sector due to improved vehicle technologies and behavior changes. However, simply developing and making a new technology available is not sufficient to ensure its adoption; to be effective, research on all energy technologies, including efficiency technologies, needs to include analysis of the barriers to adoption of innovation and of public acceptance of new technology.

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