[1THING] Blog

[ Germany Tops Energy Efficiency Scorecard While U.S. Lags ]

Germany is the winner and the United States, although showing some signs of progress, remains far from the top rung. World Cup soccer? Yes, but also energy efficiency efforts, according to new rankings released on Thursday.

Based on both policy and performance, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy’s International Scorecard put Germany first among the 16 major economies – accounting for 81 percent of global output – that were studied. Italy was second and the European Union as a whole was third. The United States sat far down the list in the 13th spot. The U.S. performed especially poorly in the transportation sector, ranking 15th.

“I’m excited about this report, but not excited about the U.S. place in this report,” Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vermont) said in an ACEEE-organized conference call. Welch has been working with Colorado Republican Cory Gardner on legislation to expand the use of energy performance contracting in federal buildings, one of a number of bills with bipartisan support that hasn’t been able to make it through one of the least productive Congresses in memory.

There might be no better example of this disconnect than the fate of a bill by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire) and Rob Portman (D-Ohio) to strengthen efficiency standards for federal, commercial and residential buildings and boost investment in energy-saving technologies, among other measures. Described by Politico as “innocuous and popular,” it fell victim to Keystone XL pipeline political maneuvering. (See related story: U.S. Efficiency Bill Dies Again in Congress)

Nevertheless, the ACEEE report did acknowledge some U.S. progress “in such areas as building codes, appliance standards, voluntary partnerships between government and industry, and, recently, fuel economy standards for passenger vehicles and heavy-duty trucks.” And there’s hope that proposed new Environmental Protection Agency rules on carbon emissions could spur states to act to improve energy efficiency. (See related: “Four Key Takeaways From EPA’s New Rule for Power Plants“)

“Energy efficiency will get a lot more attention if EPA finalizes this rule,” ACEEE Executive Director Steven Nadel said. “Energy efficiency is the low-cost compliance path for basically all the states – it often does the majority of what each state needs to do to meet the target.” The EPA has committed to finalizing the rule by next June.

This was the ACEEE’s second International Scorecard, but with adjusted metrics and four new countries included – India, Mexico, South Korea and Spain – the nonprofit organization said it provided both a broader and more precise picture of the state of energy efficiency around the world.

One of the more impressive results in the report was the showing of China, which improved from eighth all the way up to fourth. Westerners accustomed to grim images of pollution-shrouded Chinese cities might have expected China to be down near the bottom, but as Nadel noted, “pollution and efficiency are related, but they’re not the same thing.”

China did well in all four of the broad categories that went into the rankings – national efforts, buildings, industry and transportation – and even finished atop the rankings in buildings. But China still accounts for more than half the world’s coal consumption, and is the world leader in total carbon dioxide emissions.

It’s this sort of contradiction that leads some to question whether energy efficiency improvements can do as much as groups like the International Energy Agency and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change expect in the battle against global warming. The pro-nuclear Breakthrough Institute, for example, argues that predicted efficiency-driven improvements in energy intensity – energy expended per unit of output – are overstated and that more focus should go to decreasing the carbon intensity of the energy supply.

The ACEEE, for its part, doesn’t mention climate change in the new report. It instead presents energy efficiency as a way to “use fewer resources to achieve the same goals, thus reducing costs, preserving valuable resources, and gain a competitive edge over other countries.”

[ Q&A: The First-Ever Expedition to Turkmenistan’s “Door to Hell” ]

Go along with explorer George Kourounis as he becomes the first person known to venture into Turkmenistan’s fiery, gas-fueled Darvaza Crater.

[ Action needed to protect the Arctic Ocean from oil and gas drilling ]

The push to drill for offshore oil in the Arctic Ocean never seems to end, despite the potential for a catastrophic oil spill by an industry that has not proved itself capable of operating safely in Alaska’s cold, stormy and remote seas.


[ Latino youth tour visits Moab, learns about lands threatened by oil and gas ]

The tour, led by partner group the Hispanic Access Foundation (HAF), kicked off in our Denver office July 11 after seven Latino students arrived from colleges around the country.


[ America’s best kept secrets: 15 best wild beaches ]

Public beaches can sometimes be crowded, noisy places. But beaches in wilderness areas can be incredibly peaceful.


[ U.S. State Energy Costs: Who Pays Most, Least ]

The price of electricity isn’t bad in Georgia—26 percent lower than the national average, by one measure. But as a new study shows, when it comes to the energy-cost line in U.S. consumer budgets, there’s a lot more to it than how many cents per kilowatt hour the local utility charges.

WalletHub, a personal and small-business finance website, tallied the prices of electricity, natural gas and gasoline—and, significantly, took into account how much of the stuff people tend to use—to get a handle on the financial toll that energy exacts in the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

The study reveals that the range is great, from an average of $301 a month in Colorado at the low end, to $347 in New Hampshire in the middle, to $451 in Hawaii at the high end.

WalletHub said it used data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the Federal Highway Administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report to compile the rankings.

Colorado wins the derby by using moderate amounts of all three energy types, by having moderate electricity and gasoline prices, and by having the lowest natural gas prices in the country.

Hawaii’s downfall is simple to explain: prices. The state has the highest prices in each category (being an island thousands of miles from its energy sources can do that). So despite using less electricity than any state except Maine, using less natural gas than anyone, and using less gasoline than all but four states and D.C., monthly energy costs are sky high.

But that’s an extreme situation—Georgia might provide a better case study of the roles that nature, behavior and policy can play in determining energy costs.

At an average energy cost of $403 per month, Georgia finds itself closer to Hawaii than Colorado in the rankings because it uses a lot of energy. Even with its modest electricity rates, the average monthly electricity bill in Georgia is $123 (40th on a list where being first is best), according to WalletHub’s calculations, because the state ranks 41st in average monthly consumption.

Georgia does even worse when it comes to gasoline. Spending averages $217 a month there, topping even California ($192), well known for its driving culture and high gasoline prices. Georgians can’t blame it on the price of gas; only 16 states have lower gas prices than Georgia, but because the state ranks 44th in average monthly gas consumption per driver, total expenditures are among the highest in the nation.

As WalletHub notes, some factors that go into these results can’t be avoided – several months of hot, humid weather in Georgia every year no doubt keep air conditioners humming. But efficiency efforts in states could also have something to do with the results.

Georgia ranked 33rd in the State Energy Efficiency Scorecard released last November by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. The state did particularly poorly in “implementing utility-sector efficiency programs and enabling policies that are evidence of states’ commitment to energy efficiency,” with a score of 1.5 out 20, worse than all but seven states.

Georgia did better on transportation, coming in 17th place, but, notably, unlike the top six states in the rankings, it had no “vehicle miles traveled” reduction target, which the ACEEE labeled an important tool in inspiring “coordination of transportation and land use planning.” Georgia also had no greenhouse-gas emissions standards; in California, by contrast, “requirements for reductions in GHG emissions have led it to identify several strategies for smart growth,” the ACEEE said.

Note: WalletHub said it used data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the Federal Highway Administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report to compile its ranking. The energy cost per month for each state was the product of this equation, according to the site: (Average Monthly Consumption of Electricity x Average Retail Price of Electricity) + (Average Monthly Consumption of Natural Gas x Average Natural Gas Residential Prices) + [Average Fuel Price * (Average Monthly Vehicle Miles Traveled / Average Car Consumption / Number of Drivers)].

[ Bad news for conservation: budget bill advances in House ]

The fiscal year 2015 Interior and Environment Appropriations bill contains more than 30 anti-conservation policy provisions, undercutting current funding levels despite modest incre


[ Conservation pays: $360 billion, 2 million jobs from Dept. of Interior land in 2013 ]

The contribution of public lands managed by the Interior Department’s various branches, including national parks, wildlife refuges, monuments and wilderness areas, is s


[ Interior report on drilling permits reveals notable gaps for wildlands ]

On the face of it, a new report from the Department of Interior’s (DOI) Inspector General looks at delays in issuing drilling permits for oil and gas wells, but it ends up supporting the need for more drillin


[ National park tour engages young Latinos with conservation ]

Several of America’s famed national parks will be the destinations for a group of college students who will be touring the west over next week, learning about the many threats posed by oil and gas development.