Energy Efficiency: Overlooked and Misunderstood

U.S. energy consumption at the end of 2008 is expected to total half of the energy consumed in 1970, according to a new report.

Yet the success in energy efficiency during the last 30-plus years has been paid little homage, and future gains are threatened by inaction, says “The SIze of the U.S. Energy Efficiency Market: Generating a More Complete Picture” from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

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The U.S. stands to gain enormously from investments in energy efficiency, the report found, and could reasonably reduce consumption by as much as 30 percent during the next two decades.

"The greatest American success story in dealing with energy in recent decades is also the least understood and the most invisible,” said ACEEE Director of Economic Analysis John Laitner, who also co-authored the report. “This report shows that energy efficiency is among the most cost-effective solutions available to consumers, businesses, policymakers, and investors. Energy efficiency has made great strides, but we need to look at picking up the pace.

The efforts would bear additional fruit through the creation of green collar jobs. In addition to energy savings, current annual investment in the sector now support 1.6 million jobs, the majority of which are found in the buildings sector, the report found. Additional investment may push the energy efficiency market to almost $400 billion by 2030, which has the potential to yield an annual efficiency market that tops $700 billion.

Nearly 60 percent of energy efficiency investments made in 2004 were from the buildings sector, with nearly half coming from appliances and electronics. Twenty-nine percent were from commercial building structures. Overall, the building sector was responsible for 39 percent of total energy consumption.

The industrial sector was responsible for about a quarter of investments, followed by the transportation sector, which accounted for 28 percent of overall energy use.

"While these figures indicate that, as a nation, we are clearly making positive strides toward increasing our energy productivity and reducing our carbon footprint, we have only begun to scratch the surface of the potential savings that additional investments in energy efficiency technologies could provide,” said Karen Ehrhardt-Martinez, the report's lead author.

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