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NAS: We don't need new technology to be efficient

Fully adopting existing or near-term technologies could lower projected U.S.energy use 17 to 20% by 2020, and 25 to 31% by 2030.

So says the final report from the National Academy of Sciences' America's Energy Future project. Whether or not such efficiency technologies will be fully deployed will depend in part on pressures driving adoption, such as high energy prices or public policies designed to increase energy efficiency.

Nearly 70% of electricity consumption in the U.S. occurs in buildings.>The energy savings from attaining full deployment of cost-effective, energy-efficient technologies in buildings alone could eliminate the need to add new electricity generation capacity through 2030, the report says. New power generation facilities would be needed only to address imbalances in regional energy supplies, replace obsolete facilities, or to introduce more environmentally friendly sources of electricity.

Many cost-effective efficiency investments in buildings are possible, the report says. For example, replacing appliances such as air conditioners, refrigerators, freezers, furnaces, and hot water heaters with more efficient models could reduce energy use by 30%. Opportunities for substantial energy savings exist in the industrial and transportation sectors as well. For example, deployment of industrial energy efficiency technologies could reduce energy use in manufacturing 14 to 22% by 2020, relative to expected trends. Most of these savings would be in the most energy-intensive industries, such as chemical manufacturing, petroleum refining, pulp and paper, iron and steel, and cement.

Although there is great potential, there are many barriers to widespread adoption of energy efficiency technologies, the report points out. The upfront costs can be high, which can deter investment despite the possibility of long-term cost savings. Volatile energy prices can cause buyers to delay purchasing more efficient technology due to a lack of confidence that they will see an adequate return on their investment. In addition, there is a shortage of readily available, trustworthy information for consumers hoping to learn about the relative performance and costs of energy-efficient technology alternatives. Investments in energy-efficient infrastructure are particularly important, as these can lock in patterns of energy use for decades. Therefore, taking advantage of windows of opportunity for infrastructure is crucial.

There is a charge for the full report but a free summary is available here: http://dels.nas.edu/dels/rpt_briefs/aef_efficiency_brief_final.pdf

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