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The Rise and Fall of Energy Consumption and Efficiency

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According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA) US energy consumption hit a record high in 2018.  Fossil fuels provided 80 percent of total energy used in 2018.  While renewables are climbing, they still only account for 12 percent of energy used in the U.S.  As the U.S. economy grows so does the need for fuel and electricity.  Will energy efficiency lower consumption despite growing demand?  New York City is hoping it will.  New York City is on the verge of embracing citywide energy efficiency laws more ambitious than any we have seen in this country.  The goal is to reduce the carbon emissions footprint by 40 percent by 2030.  Once the bill is passed into law, those who miss the mark could face financial penalties.  Opponents feel the costs of such vast energy-reduction is unreasonable.  Optimistic about the plan, John Mandyck, CEO of the Urban Green Council said, "Buildings will have to do deep energy retrofits, buy green power or eventually look at carbon trading,” he continued, “We get that it's tough and that billions of dollars will need to be spent to reduce carbon emissions. But new technology and new business models will be invented to help buildings get there."   In Berlin, regulators are excited about the massive savings that energy efficient buildings can offer.  The DENEFF is aiming for the highest possible reduction of energy consumption by the means of energy efficiency. With incentives and tax credits, they hope to increase efficiency in the building sector and lower consumption.   As energy efficiency improves, the EIA noted that energy production in the United States is poised to grow but overall energy use will see minimal changes in coming decades.

Nevelyn Black's picture

Thank Nevelyn for the Post!

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Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on April 20, 2019

Nevelyn, since 1950 any lasting declines in overall U.S. energy consumption were due to temporary episodes of economic hardship. The introduction of LED lighting, celebrated as the greatest accomplishment in U.S. energy efficiency, is predicted to save 345 TWh (terawatthours) of energy by 2027, or 1.5% of U.S. total consumption (23,703 TWh in 2018) - a blip on the radar.

Why isn't efficiency showing more promise? Efficiency, like hydropower, is not a scalable resource. When the U.S. began damming rivers for hydropower, the largest rivers in areas served by electricity were the first choices - the low-hanging fruit. Eventually (as expected) development of hydropower tapered off, as favorable sites were harder to come by.

Efficiency improvements proceed in exactly the same inverse-logarithmic relationship as discovery of any limited, unscalable resource - without discovery of a new law of physics (extremely unlikely), it's all downhill from here. A growing world population seeking access to energy Americans take for granted means global energy requirements will only grow for the foreseeable future.

That means more clean energy is our only hope for staving off the worst effects of climate change. With solar and wind only showing improvements comparable to LED lighting, nuclear energy remains the only scalable resource capable of satisfying global demand for clean electricity.

Anyone who denies nuclear energy paves the only viable path forward on climate change either doesn't know enough about energy, or doesn't understand the scale of the problem. Yes, it's really that bad.

Tripp Tucker's picture
Tripp Tucker on April 21, 2019

Nevelyn, Clean electricity and energy efficiency will help reduce consumption and provide jobs. - 3DFS Software-Defined Electricity "Higher energy standards are another policy that supports clean energy and energy efficiency jobs.  On April 18, the city council of New York approved a plan where every building in the city larger than 25,000 square feet in size must reduce its carbon emissions by 40% no later than 2030.  "The new policy will apply to more than 50,000 buildings in the city, including Trump Tower”" https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2019/4/20/1851903/-Why-isn-t-job-growth-the-first-thing-climate-activists-mention

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on April 22, 2019

No matter the scale of the conservation that we implement, overall energy demand will continue to grow-- that's simply the nature of a growing population, industrializing world, and increasingly digital way of life. That said, improvements in efficiency are surely helping to moderate that growth and not result in even greater strain on the grid. Efficiency really must be seen as a first line of defense in that regard.

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