So much to improve...Waste is ugly. Doing more with less is beautiful. Many of us try to live by these sayings in our personal lives, but at the country level, too few nations really give their best effort. Energy efficiency makes almost everything else that we need to do to transition to a better, more sustainable future easier because so many of our problems can trace their roots back to energy production. If we use less energy to do what we need to do, we both directly reduce pollution from whatever dirty sources we're using, and we make it easier to replace those with clean power.
The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE), who has been ranking U.S. states by their energy efficiency (see below), has come out with a report that looks at how energy efficient 16 of the biggest economies in the world are. If you look at the map at the top of this article, it shows the results, with the U.S. sadly coming near the bottom, behind China and India, among other big countries, and slightly ahead of Russia, Brazil, and Mexico.
Here's the list if you can't see the numbers on the graphic too well:(1) Germany; (2) Italy; (3) the European Union; (tied for 4) China; (tied for 4) France; (tied for 6) Japan; (tied for 6) United Kingdom; (8) Spain; (9) Canada; (10) Australia; (11) India; (12) South Korea; (13) United States; (14) Russia; (15) Brazil; and (16) Mexico.
Note that the EU was also evaluated as a whole, and ranks #3. Very good for such a diverse set of countries!
ACEEE Executive Director Steven Nadel said: “Germany is a prime example of a nation that has made energy efficiency a top priority. The United States, long considered an innovative and competitive world leader, has progressed slowly and has made limited progress since our last report, even as Germany, Italy, China, and other nations surge ahead.”
Energy efficiency isn't important just for environmental matters. It also helps with economic competitiveness, and is thus very important for job creation and overall economic vigor.
U.S. Congressman Peter Welch (Vermont) said: “There’s really no excuse for the U.S. lagging behind other nations on energy efficiency. States like Vermont have demonstrated that energy efficiency saves money, reduces environmental impact, and creates jobs. And, in an environment of gridlock, there is bipartisan common ground on this issue in Congress. I hope the 2014 International Scorecard is a wakeup call that it’s time for America to step-up and lead on energy efficiency.”
The graph above was created by the Lawrence Livermore National Labs and shows each energy source in the U.S., how that energy is used, and how much is actually doing something useful and how much is wasted. As you can see, waste still accounts for 61% of all energy used in the country, leaving a huge opportunity for improvement. While we'll never reach 100% because of the laws of physics, we could certainly get a lot closer to it (just look at the part of the graph for petroleum and transportation -- waste is huge there because combustion engines are inherently very inefficient. Moving over to electric cars will help tremendously, and even better if the electricity comes from clean sources).