This post was written by Keith Dawson for UBM Tech’s community Web site All LED Lighting, sponsored by Philips Lumileds. It is archived here because the All LED Lighting site has gone dark. This material is Copyright 2013-2015 by UBM Americas.


US Lagging Badly in Energy Efficiency

A report on the energy efficiency of the 16 largest economies ranks the US near the bottom. SSL is one avenue toward improving our use of energy, but there is much other room for improvement.

My colleague Lee Goldberg over at EDN, founding editor of this community, alerted me to the new edition of the biennial report from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). The 2014 International Energy Efficiency Scorecard covers the 16 largest economies, which together comprise 81% of the globe's GDP and 71% of worldwide energy usage. (Free registration is required to download the report; here is an executive summary.)

To arrive at the rankings, ACEEE looked at 31 factors, half related to governmental policy and half to quantifiable metrics, across 15 nations plus the EU. (The EU was included in the study because its overall economy is similar in size to that of the US, so direct comparisons can be drawn.) The factors distribute evenly among four categories of energy use: national policy, buildings, industry, and transportation. Each category was scored a maximum of 25 points, so full marks for energy efficiency would be 100 points.

Germany came out No. 1 with a score of 65. Italy was second at 64 and the EU third at 63. France and China tied for fourth at 61.

The US was 13th with a score of 42. Two years ago, the first edition of the ACEEE report ranked the US 9th out of 12 countries studied. Overall, the US has made limited or little progress toward energy efficiency in the last few years.

We usually think of fast-growing economies such as the BRIC countries -- Brazil, Russia, India, China -- as following in the lead of developed countries. But of those four, India and China surpass this country in energy efficiency, while Brazil and Russia rank below the US. China, as mentioned, is tied for the No. 4 position overall, and India is 11th.

Government is the key
Besides the relative rankings, the emphasis of the report is in how much room for improvement even the leading countries still have. In the US, many of the recommendations for improvement rely on government action at the national level. But the current political stalemate pretty much guarantees that no such action is on the horizon.

The US's strongest sector is buildings, and its weakest is transportation. Americans drive far more vehicle miles per capita than any other country, and our use of public transportation is near the bottom. Vehicle efficiency standards, where they exist, rank in the bottom half compared to other nations.

The report does not single out solid-state lighting as a constituent of energy efficiency; the scale is too broad and the criteria too coarse-grained to track such a component. But in much of the developed world, SSL has been promoted by governments as part of the path to energy independence and lowered carbon emissions. A greater penetration of SSL in the lighting universe will lower energy use, particularly in the buildings sector. But in the US this sector is the strongest of the four; improvements in industry, transportation, and especially in national policy would make a larger impact.

— Keith Dawson Circle me on Google+ Follow me on Twitter Visit my LinkedIn page, Editor-in-Chief, All LED Lighting