NRDC: U.S. Energy Economy Has Never Been Better

Key economic, security and environmental indicators show the state of the U.S. energy economy has never been better, according to a new report by the Natural Resources Defense Council. One key finding: the United States has found so many innovative ways to save energy that the nation has more than doubled its economic productivity from oil, natural gas, and electricity over the past 40 years, which means energy efficiency has contributed more to meeting America’s needs than all other resources combined.

“Although the nation’s energy news has trended from bad to worse for decades, we’ve seen a remarkable turnaround, much of it due to the huge and inexpensive resource of energy efficiency—getting more out of every energy dollar,” says Ralph Cavanagh, NRDC co-director of the energy program. “But you’d never know it from those who want to build the massive KXL pipeline, ratchet up oil and gas drilling, launch a nuclear renaissance or embrace an ‘all of the above’ energy policy.”

NRDC’s First Annual Energy and Environment Report, America’s (Amazingly) Good Energy News, is the product of an exhaustive analysis of extensive new government data that shows total U.S. energy use in 2012 was below the 1999 level even though the economy grew by more than 25 percent (adjusted for inflation) during that period. As a result of national energy efficiency measures, factories and businesses are producing substantially more products and value with less energy, the amount of gasoline per mile driven is down, and the cost of all energy services (from lighting to refrigeration) also has decreased.

“These energy reductions are saving hundreds of billions of dollars every year, helping U.S. workers and companies compete worldwide, and making our country more secure,” Cavanagh says.

The report notes that the amount of climate-warming carbon dioxide pollution also is down, putting the nation on track to meet President Obama’s emissions reduction target of 17 percent over the next seven years, though much more must be done to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

Here is a snapshot of the report’s major findings:

  • ELECTRICITY: Since 2000, for the first time in modern history, the rate of growth in electricity use has dropped well below the rate of population growth.
  • OIL: The amount of oil used in U.S. vehicles, homes, and businesses continued an extended decline last year, down 14 percent from its 2005 peak and also lower than in 1973 (when the nation’s economy was only about one-third its current size).
  • COAL: U.S. coal use in 2012 was less than in 1985 and down almost one-fourth from the 2005 peak year, primarily reflecting a shift away from increasingly uneconomic coal-burning power plants whose air pollution produces more premature deaths than any other form of energy use in the United States and abroad.
  • NATURAL GAS: While natural gas increased its market share to above 30 percent of electricity generation in 2012, the trend is highly sensitive to volatile commodity prices and therefore unsteady.
  • NUCLEAR: U.S. nuclear generation has flattened, with market share dropping below 19 percent of total electric generation in 2012, and total nuclear power production was down almost 5 percent from its peak five years earlier.
  • RENEWABLE ENERGY: Wind power led all competitors – both renewables and fossil fuels – in terms of new generating capacity installed over the course of 2012 and solar power also is surging; but even more impressive was the 24-fold increase in wind-produced electricity from 2000 to 2012.
  • ENERGY EFFICIENCY – Energy efficiency standards and financial incentives, underwritten mostly by the utility industry, have dramatically reduced both the energy intensity and costs of energy. And new fuel economy standards are reducing America’s oil imports by more than 2 million barrels per day.

The report also notes that additional investments in efficiency could cut U.S. energy consumption by 23 percent by 2020, save customers nearly $700 billion, and create up to 900,000 direct jobs (plus countless more when consumers spend their savings elsewhere). But first a number of additional steps are necessary, including:

At the personal and business levels, we must take additional steps to achieve energy efficiencies that cost and pollute less, such as upgrading our homes and offices with more energy-efficient products and installing better-performing appliances and lighting; the federal government and the states must keep tightening efficiency standards for buildings, equipment, and vehicles; and state regulators need to eliminate widely applied policies that unintentionally penalize utilities for encouraging customers to save energy.

“The report is a powerful rebuttal of the ill-considered ‘all of the above’ energy philosophy, which is both unaffordable and environmentally irresponsible,” says Cavanagh. “We should learn from 40 years of economy-wide demonstrations that the fastest, cheapest, and cleanest energy solutions all involve getting more work out of less electricity, oil and natural gas.”

1 Comment on "NRDC: U.S. Energy Economy Has Never Been Better"

  1. This agenda-driven piece totally ignores two simple facts which debunk the hypothesis – outlet oil imports are at absurd levels due to restricting both drilling and the pipeline. We are politically hostage to nations who are otherwise hostile to us and are building up other nations such as Brazil’s oil industry at the expense of our own. Secondly, China has move I to the Canadian forestry resources and the oil fr. Canada if not piped here will likely go to Asia. The cheerleading to be of the piece is not geopolitically sound and sound like typical happy-talk from Obama acolytes. The biggest drops in energy consumption predates him. His major savings in oil came from the 12 percent U6 unemployment rate with people stuck home or with put their repossession vehicle. Yes we continue to conserve but not to the extent of draconian limitations of freedom forcing people into tiny and dysfunctional vehicles that do not meet ther daily needs or offer a modicum of safety protection if in an accident. Incidentally, there are many complaints of high-priced hybrids promising 50mpg getting only 35 at best. So we pursue sensible energy savings and use with discretion the wealth of natural resources at our disposal while encouraging research int long term alternatives.

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