Distorted Energy Efficiency Assertions

Extreme environmental organizations preach that the United States lags in energy efficiency and that the United States could improve energy efficiency by as much as 40%.

Organizations such as the Sierra Club, the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC), Greenpeace, and the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) make these assertions.

The claims used in this year’s ACEEE report of how other countries are superior to the United States are fascinating … if not ridiculous.

The ACEEE report showed that the United States lagged behind China for energy efficiencies in buildings.

This piqued my curiosity since I recently visited China.

In the residential sector, the United States scored a 1 (nearly the worst possible rating) while China scored a 5 (best possible rating).

Using the ACEEE thinking, this is understandable.

New apartment buildings in China don’t have heating or air-conditioning and lack elevators below the fifth floor. The government assumes people don’t need heating with temperatures of 40 degrees F since they can put on sweaters or jackets. People also don’t need air-conditioning with temperatures of 95 degrees F, temperatures that are not uncommon in much of China.

Interestingly, people who buy these apartments try to add heating and air-conditioning, as can be seen in this picture. They also hang out their wash on the balconies because they don’t have clothes dryers.

Air-conditioning units and clothes hanging to dry. Photo by Dears

These new buildings represent a huge improvement over older buildings found in rural areas.

The ACEEE had similar results for commercial buildings, where the United States had a score of 2 and China had a score of 5 (best possible rating).

This would seem to imply that the United States could improve its energy efficiency by giving up some of the amenities of a modern society and retrogress to conditions found in emerging countries. This would certainly improve our ratings in the eyes of the ACEEE.

Then there is how the ACEEE ranks transportation; and as one might guess, the United States ranks poorly.

China, for example, receives a score of 3, while the United States receives a score of 0 (for vehicle miles traveled per person.) This seriously distorts any evaluation of energy efficiency. It implies that people in the United States should drive less.

A comparison with Russia gives similar results. Russia also scores a 3 for vehicle miles traveled per person.

For the use of mass transit, China scores a 4, while the United States gets a score of 0.

The United States also received a score of 1 for fuel economy standards, which is explained as being so because the United States drives larger cars.

Amazingly, the UK is ranked as the most energy-efficient for industry. This is in spite of the fact that the UK’s industry is on the ropes. The UK receives a high rating largely because of its low use of energy per GDP. The UK also received the highest overall rating for all countries studied.

Clearly, if you don’t produce very many products, you do well in so far as the ACEEE is concerned.

Germany, the strongest economy in Europe, ranks behind the UK and also behind France, Italy, and Japan.

The United States also receives a 0 because it doesn’t have mandatory energy-saving goals.

Greenpeace, with its Energy [R]evolution report, harps on many of the same issues. It promotes combined heat and power (CHP) as having vastly superior efficiency than the centralized power generation structure in the United States. Unfortunately, they misinterpret how to calculate the efficiency of CHP. They claim that using the exhaust heat from turbines or diesels to heat homes and buildings raises efficiency to over 90%. This is like saying using the heat from the car’s engine to warm the car in winter improves the efficiency of the car’s engine to over 90%. Obviously, exhaust gasses or exhaust steam have a lower energy value than the electricity produced by the power plants.

Industries in the United States, except those that needed steam for processes, stopped using CHP in the early twentieth century when electricity from the grid became far less costly and it was more efficient to use low-cost electricity from the grid.

The common denominator through the reports published by these environmental organizations is the drive to cut CO2 emissions 80% by 2050.

Improving efficiency is always important, but driving a large car doesn’t mean Americans aren’t improving energy efficiency. Every American company is constantly trying to lower costs and improve efficiency. American consumers are always evaluating products based on their quality, reliability, and efficiency.

The reports by these environmental organizations are blatant attempts to show that Americans should use “less” … to drive small cars; to stop driving cars altogether if possible; to be uncomfortable in the summer without air-conditioning and colder in the winter with less heat and to wear sweaters rather than turning up the thermostat; to live in smaller buildings or smaller apartments; and to live in multi-use city buildings, such as in Europe, to consume less of everything and abide by government rules and regulations.

These reports are interesting reading because they demonstrate what extreme environmentalists have in store for Americans if they get their way.


Note: The ACEEE report can be downloaded from



Read more of Donn’s columns at his blog, Power for USA.

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