Report: Efficiency Key to America's Hidden Energy Reserve

Eliminating wasted energy from automobiles, homes, and businesses is equivalent to tapping a hidden energy reserve that will help the United States improve its energy security and reduce global warming, an American Physical Society (APS) study panel concluded in a major report released Sept. 16.

The report, "Energy Future: Think Efficiency," reaches three overarching conclusions:

• Improving energy efficiency is a relatively easy and inexpensive way to significantly reduce the nation's demand for imported oil and its greenhouse gas emissions without causing any loss of comfort or convenience.

• Numerous technologies exist today to increase the efficiency of U.S. vehicles and buildings in ways that could save individual consumers money. But without federal policies to overcome market barriers, the United States is unlikely to capitalize on these technologies.

• Far greater increases in energy efficiency are available in the future, but realizing these potential gains will require a larger and better focused federal research and development program on energy efficiency than exists today.

The report concludes that the average light-duty vehicle should have a mileage of at least 50 miles per gallon by 2030 and that widespread construction of homes that require no fossil fuels should be possible in most areas by 2020.

The report recommends that the federal government invest more in its research and development programs, particularly in the areas of batteries for conventional hybrid vehicles, plug-in hybrids, and battery electric vehicles. The report credits automakers for devoting resources to the development of hydrogen fuel cell and plug-in hybrid vehicles, but concludes that they will not be a short-term solution to the nation's energy needs because to be broadly adopted they will require significant scientific and engineering breakthroughs in several critical areas.

The study also calls on Congress and the White House to increase spending on research and development of next-generation building technologies and on training scientists who work on building technologies. Additionally, it recommends that lawmakers develop policies that address a wide-array of market barriers that discourage consumers from investing in energy efficient technologies, especially in the highly fragmented building sector.

"The American people need leadership from the Congress and the next president on this issue," said Nobel Laureate Burton Richter, chair of the study panel and director emeritus of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. "Both Sens. McCain and Obama have outlined plans for improving energy efficiency and the important role new technologies will play in our energy future. The next leader of the United States will have an opportunity to be the first in history to lay the necessary groundwork to reduce energy use among Americans."

For a full copy of the APS report Energy Future: Think Efficiency and related materials, go to http://www.aps.org/energyefficiencyreport/.

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