Two Studies Show the State of Energy Efficiency

by | Jul 22, 2016

green_buildingEd Koch, the mayor of New York City from 1978 to 1989, would wave at passersby on the street and ask, “How’m I doin’?” A couple of interesting studies released during the past month ask the same question of the energy efficiency sector: How is the United States and the rest of the world doing?

This week, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) released its evaluation of energy efficiency in the 23 largest economies in the world. Germany was tops, followed by Japan and Italy, which tied for second. France and the United Kingdom rounded out the top five.

The United States tied for eighth place with South Korea. The ACEEE does a fairly deep analysis of each country in the study. Out of 25 possible points, the United States scored 16.5 for overall national efforts. Its scored 18.5 in building efficiency (second overall), 14.5 in industrial efficiency and 12 in transportation efficiency.

Shruti Vaidyanathan, a Senior Researcher for ACEEE, told Energy Manager Today that the United States finished thirteenth in 2014. “The US rank was boosted by high scores in a number of new metrics added to the report for 2016, as well as improvements in energy intensity, or energy use per dollar of GDP,” he wrote in emailed questions. “The US also benefited from changes to the scoring methodology, which now allocates more weight to policy actions.”

While there are some positives, the ACEEE pointed to significant shortfalls and areas for improvement. The ACEEE found that the United States has no “binding energy goals.” The United States, the study found, “could take advantage of existing efficiency opportunities by mandating building energy-use disclosure policies and categorical labels for appliances.”

Vaidyanathan pointed to where improvements can be made. “The US could implement a national energy savings goal to help align energy efficiency goals across sectors and create a cohesive approach to energy savings and greenhouse gas emission reductions,” he wrote. “Additional policy recommendations would be to ensure that fuel economy standards for heavy- and light-duty vehicles remain strong, improve building retrofit policies and building energy disclosure, expand the scope of voluntary partnerships between government and large manufacturers.”

The other study, from Johnson Controls, was release last month. It is based on feedback from 1,243 energy and facility managers from five countries. The 2016 Energy Efficiency Indicator found that efficiency efforts are more likely in large than small buildings. The organization puts the cutoff at 100,000 square feet. The study says that 72 percent of the larger facilities installed building management systems during the past two years, while only 35 percent of smaller buildings took that step. The willingness to pay more for a green building also split along the same big building/small building demarcation.

The study is filled with interesting information and data. The slides compared results from this year to those collected in 2013. This year, half of responding companies – from the United States, India, China, Brazil and Germany — are paying more attention to energy efficiency. Three years ago, only 37 percent were.

The United States – which represented 25 percent of the responses – was fourth out of five in projected investment increases for next year. Its 68 percent projected budget increase only outpaced Germany, at 48 percent. However, Germany’s low percentage may be misleading: Its standing as the top country in energy efficiency in the ACEEE study suggests that investment may be low simply because much of the heavy lifting is done, not due to a lack of interest.

Another interesting finding from Johnson Controls’ research is that the percentage of respondents rating eight drivers of energy efficiency as extremely or very important all grew between 2013 and 2016. Indeed, only cost reduction is even close: 82 percent put it in one of the two levels of importance this year and 79 percent in 2013. In what can be described as a great sign for energy efficiency proponents, the greatest increase was in “investor expectations.” Support grew in this category from 27 percent to 58 percent. In other words, respondents to the survey believe that people who own and finance their facilities want to see energy efficiency improvements. Keep in mind that people who sign checks tend to get what they want.

It is dangerous, of course, to compare research too closely. They have different time frames, different wordings, different target audiences and in many cases different agendas. However, at a higher level it is possible to draw general conclusions.

The most basic conclusion is that energy efficiency is growing worldwide. Newer, less developed economies are taking energy efficiency seriously. Investments in developed countries are growing, but less in percentage. This may have as much to do with the need for bigger capital investments in quickly developing economies, political and regulatory obstacles and assorted other local concerns and issues. It is not necessarily a sign that one nation is more or less interested in energy efficiency than another.

The answer to Mayor Koch’s trademark question, if reworded a bit and posed to the worldwide energy efficiency community is best answered as “Good, but not great.”

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