WASHINGTON — Energy efficiency has made major strides in the U.S. in the last 35 years, with “energy intensity” — the measurement of energy used per dollar of gross domestic product — down from 12.1 thousand Btu per dollar in 1980 to 6.1 thousand Btu per dollar in 2014, according to a new report from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).

ACEEE found that about 60 percent of the improvement in energy intensity over the report’s 35-year period was due to energy efficiency and about 40 percent to major structural changes in the economy. The bottom line is that just the energy efficiency portion saved U.S. consumers and businesses about $800 billion in 2014, roughly $2,500 per capita. Even though U.S. energy use grew by 26 percent from 1980 to 2014, U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) increased by 149 percent.

Issued to mark ACEEE’s 35th anniversary, “Energy Efficiency in the U.S.: 35 Years and Counting” also looks ahead and concludes that “(w)hile much progress has been made, there are large and cost-effective energy efficiency opportunities that, by 2050, can collectively reduce energy use by 40-60 percent relative to current forecasts.”

Examples of energy-efficiency advances since 1980 cited in the report include the following:

• The energy use of new homes per square foot has declined by nearly 20 percent.

• Industrial energy use per unit value of product is down by nearly 40 percent.

• Energy losses in the U.S. electric transmission and distribution system have declined by more than 25 percent.

Steven Nadel, ACEEE executive director and report co-author, said, “Energy efficiency has made great strides in the past 35 years, and we have learned many important lessons on how markets and policies can work together to advance it. Looking forward, we find opportunities to reduce 2050 energy use by half relative to a business-as-usual reference case. In order to harvest these large efficiency opportunities, we need to take our efforts to a higher level. The challenges are many, but so are the benefits in terms of lower energy bills, a stronger economy, improved energy security, and a cleaner environment. The past has shown us what efficiency can do and it can guide us to even greater success in the future.”

The ACEEE report notes, “Efficiency investments and savings also generate jobs, including direct jobs installing efficiency measures, indirect jobs upstream in the supply chain, and jobs induced as energy bill savings are spent elsewhere and multiply through the economy. Energy savings can also help to drive modest overall growth in the U.S. economy ... Further, energy efficiency savings over the past 35 years have contributed to our nation’s security and improved our environment ... Reductions in energy consumption also mean reduced emissions of fuel-combustion byproducts, including sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides (contributors to acid rain and smog), mercury and other toxic metals (contributors to health problems), and carbon dioxide (the predominant greenhouse gas).”

To achieve even deeper energy efficiency advances in the next 35 years, ACEEE recommendations include:

• Better systems integration, including through “intelligent efficiency,” i.e., the use of sensors, controls, big data, and computer chips to monitor and control energy use in real time.

• Evolution of building design to yield zero net energy and ultra-low-energy buildings.

• Industrial process improvements.

• Taking building energy retrofits to a much higher level, including more widespread and deeper retrofits for larger savings per building.

• Better efficiency of the electric grid through expanded use of combined heat and power systems, greater power plant efficiency, reduced transmission and distribution losses, expanded use of other distributed generation resources, and improved grid control and integration.

• Initiatives to change wasteful energy-using behaviors among consumers and businesses.

The ACEEE report is available online at http://aceee.org/research-report/e1502.

Publication date: 7/13/2015

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