Expert Commentary

Stabilizing and reducing U.S. energy consumption

2008 paper by the Widener University School of Law on approaches for realizing the potential benefits of energy efficiency in the United States.

While increasing energy efficiency has considerable benefits, significant barriers exist. Efficiency potential is spread throughout millions of individual homes and businesses, requires upfront investments and shows returns only over time. This makes efficiency no one’s first priority.

A 2008 paper by the Widener University School of Law, “Stabilizing and Then Reducing U.S. Energy Consumption: Legal and Policy Tools for Efficiency and Conservation,” provides a useful guide to realizing the potential benefits of energy efficiency.

Policy tools suggested by the paper include:

  • Raising appliance and equipment efficiency standards. Since 1990 existing programs such as Energy Star have helped reduce annual carbon emissions by an amount equal to 4% of the U.S. carbon emissions that year and provided a net savings to the U.S. economy.
  • Improving efficiency in existing residential and commercial buildings. Of the efficiency potential, the 2009 McKinsey report indicates that the residential sector accounts for 35% and the commercial sector 25%.
  • Raising the required corporate average fuel economy (CAFE). Such regulations have already increased the average fuel economy of U.S. cars from 18 miles per gallon in 1978 to 27.5 miles per gallon in 1990.
  • Updating the U.S. gasoline taxes, which effectively raise the cost of gas and act immediately to encourage efficient use.
  • Providing more transportation options for both individuals and businesses. These include an expansion of energy-efficient rail freight and transportation-oriented development.
  • Using tools such as regional transmissions organizations, public benefit funds and variable rate tariffs to encourage competition and efficiency in electricity generation, transmission and consumption.

Used together, such tools have the potential of stabilizing U.S. energy consumption in the next several decades, the author states. Such a stabilization would provide considerable savings as well as environmental benefits.

A related study by McKinsey & Company, “Unlocking Energy Efficiency in the U.S. Economy,” looks at the potential benefits of reducing energy consumption.

Tags: carbon, emissions, global warming, greenhouse gases, technology, infrastructure, conservation, cars

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