To boost US security, an energy diet
Efficiency could be the cheapest and easiest way to wean America from foreign oil.
Betsy Rosenberg used to ferry her daughter around town in a gas-swilling SUV until she got fed up one day two years ago and traded it in for a gas-sipping hybrid.Skip to next paragraph
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"I hate waste," says Mrs. Rosenberg, a Toyota Prius owner who now runs a San Francisco-area group called "Don't Be Fueled! Mothers for clean and safe vehicles." Her aim: to press automakers to create vehicles for the soccer mom set that won't gulp oceans of gasoline. "We're not trying to make moms feel guilty about their SUVs and we're not anti-SUV. We are pro-vehicle choice."
Rosenberg's call for energy-efficient cars echoes a rising chorus of experts who offer a dramatic solution for America's energy woes. By boosting the efficiency of cars, homes, and offices, the United States could dramatically cut its reliance on foreign oil and forgo building many new power plants. The solution would not only be easier than drilling for more energy, it would be cheaper, these experts say.
"The United States is the Saudi Arabia of energy waste," says Amory Lovins, president of Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), an energy think tank in Snowmass, Colo. "Fortunately, what this means is that we can save energy - save oil - far faster than OPEC can pump and sell oil. The last time we exercised that power and became much more efficient, it broke OPEC'S market power for a decade."
How much help does efficiency offer?
Just by "consolidating and accelerating" existing trends toward greater efficiency - at an estimated cost of $180 billion over a decade - the US could eliminate oil imports by 2040, according to an RMI report released Monday.
Even without big expenditures, the US could reduce its electricity use 24 percent by accelerating energy-efficiency programs among businesses and homeowners, according to an analysis of a dozen independent energy studies, released last month by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE).
Energy efficiency does not mean turn-down-the-thermostat conservation, these analysts say. Instead, it involves redesigning everything from cars to light bulbs so that they use less fuel to do their jobs. After the energy shocks of the 1970s, the US made dramatic strides toward this goal. But progress has been uneven since then, leaving Americans with a mixed energy-use legacy.
On the one hand, they're unrepentant energy hogs.
Except for Canada, no other large industrialized nation uses as much energy per person, according to the federal Energy Information Administration (EIA), a branch of the US Department of Energy. In 2002, that amounted to nearly 98 quadrillion Btus, the energy equivalent of 7.5 gallons of gasoline per day per person - nearly double the amount used by the average Frenchman, 10 times that of the average Chinese.
On the other hand, the US has made progress in energy "intensity" - the amount of energy consumption per dollar of economic output. Without much fanfare, the nation has doubled the amount of economic output from each barrel of oil since 1975, RMI reports, thanks in part to improved motor, computer, and manufacturing technologies.
Today's best refrigerators, for example, use a quarter of the energy they did a few decades ago, thanks in large part to vastly more efficient compressors and motors. Air conditioners are much improved, too.