Energy Efficiency FAQ’s
What is the APS and why should policy makers or the public care about the findings of this report on energy efficiency?
The APS represents more than 46,000 U.S. physicists in academia and industry and includes [Number] Nobel Prize laureates. APS members are involved in every aspect of the physical sciences and have played significant roles in some of the most important scientific achievements of our time from the development of nuclear power to U.S. manned-space flight. [Other example(s)?] We believe APS can make an important contribution to securing America’s energy future by applying some of the best minds in the world to the task.
Why did APS undertake this study?
The United States faces a greater risk to its energy security today than at any other time in its history and the threat of serious worldwide consequences from global climate change is looming. In order to sustain strong economic growth in the face of worldwide competition for oil and to address potentially disastrous effects of global warming, the United States needs sound energy policy based on the best possible science. After carefully examining the issues related to energy security and global climate change, the APS report outlines the current scientific and technological options available to the United States and recommends a series of policy enhancements we believe will address the nation’s need for energy today, tomorrow and well into the future.
What is the primary finding of the report?
The APS report, Energy Future: Think Efficiency, concluded that increasing the nation’s energy efficiency is comparable to discovering a hidden U.S. energy reserve. While most proposals addressing the soaring cost of fuel have focused primarily on increasing the supply of or reducing the demand for oil, the APS report offers a number of short to long-term solutions for enhancing the nation’s supply of energy by impacting both supply and demand through improved efficiencies.
How can we be certain that energy efficiency will make a difference?
The APS first addressed energy efficiency in 1974 during the Arab oil embargo. The results of that study provided the intellectual underpinnings for the United States to adopt national strategies, implement policies and develop technologies that significantly improved energy efficiency, particularly in appliances, heating systems and air conditioning. Science and technology have progressed considerably in the past 35 years, but U.S. energy policy has not. It is time to revisit the issue in a serious, thoughtful way.
What types of "policies" for energy efficiency are you referring to?
There are near-term, medium-term and long-term actions required to achieve energy efficiency. Some of the measures that would achieve this goal include improving gasoline mileage for trucks and gasoline powered light duty vehicles by 2030, enforcing strict requirements for zero energy residential buildings, except in hot, humid climates by 2020 and encouraging states to create energy-saving demand-side management programs for their utilities. The opportunities for efficiencies are huge but the costs are small.
Why does the study include only vehicles and buildings, and not industry?
The transportation and building sectors account for about 68 percent of U.S. petroleum consumption and about 70 percent of carbon emissions believed to contribute to global warming. The study concluded that of all the technology and policy options available, the one that has the greatest potential in the next twenty years is a policy designed to improve energy efficiency, particularly end-use efficiency, in the transportation and building sectors. While it would be beneficial to examine industrial energy use of energy, the current APS study does not address this because the use of industrial energy is industry specific. It simply was not feasible to put together a set of generalized findings and recommendations for the use of energy by industry as a whole.
A major emphasis is placed on the role of the federal government. Why?
No matter your political leanings or the role you think the federal government should or should not play in the economic affairs of the nation, the reality is that U.S. government policy has a direct and significant impact on most sectors of our economy. Nowhere is this truer than in the energy sector where government policy affects everything from the supply of energy to the price of it. Whether it is the result of environmental policy that prohibits the drilling for oil in environmentally sensitive areas, tax policy that raises the price of a gallon of gasoline at the pump or foreign policy that impacts the continued flow of oil from countries hostile to the United States, the role the federal government plays in the economic life of the country cannot be overstated. And it is estimated that the federal government provides 68 percent of all funding for science and technology research in the United States.
How much will your recommendations cost?
Identifying those policies that are likely to have the greatest influence on implementing the recommendations of this study lies beyond the scope of our report, as do their individual costs. In a number of cases, the choice of policies might require additional social science research into how people evaluate risk, how they integrate long and short-term benefits and costs, how they react to economic triggers and how they understand and value the energy security and global warming issues. Perhaps a better question to ask is, "What will it cost if we do not adopt these recommendations?"
With the advent of hydrogen vehicles and plug-in vehicles, won’t that reduce our need for foreign oil?
The advent of new vehicle technologies will have a significant impact on the supply of and demand for petroleum products. While the auto manufacturers deserve considerable credit for their efforts to develop alternatives to the gasoline powered engine, we are still many years away from a reliable and mass-produced product for American consumers. Increased research is needed in batteries for conventional hybrids, plug-in hybrids and battery electric vehicles and in various types of fuel cells. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are not a short-term solution, but rather a long-term option requiring fundamental science and engineering breakthroughs in several areas before they reliably meet our daily transportation requirements.
Why have states lagged in demand-side utility management?
Growth in energy demand by the building sector can be reduced from the projected 30 percent increase to zero between now and 2030. In order to meet this goal, however, the federal government must increase research and development spending for next-generation building technologies, for training building scientists and for supporting the associated national laboratory, university and private sector research programs. At the same time, the federal government must strongly encourage states to push forward with demand-side management in the utility industry. It is time, however, for the federal government to listen to the American public who support conservation and efficiency and become more aggressive in encouraging all states to adopt consistent standards for demand-side energy programs.
Why are demand-side utility management programs important?
When utilities educate and work with their customers to be more efficient in the use of electric power, demand-side management programs have proven time and again to be very successful. Consumers use less electricity while utilities consume less energy resources to produce power and lower their carbon emissions. And both save money. This is a classic win-win scenario; one that clearly demonstrates the value of efficiency.
What changes are needed in the way basic and applied research are funded?
Achieving the maximum efficiencies possible in both transportation and building will require significant scientific advances, many of them taking ten, twenty or more years to achieve. Experience of the past few decades has shown that such time horizons are incompatible with the parameters established by financial markets that require companies to demonstrate performance every quarter or year. Whether you are talking about basic or applied research, long-term research simply is not well-suited to the abbreviated time frames of the private sector and neither are many of the risks associated with such research acceptable to most financial investors. As a result, over the past thirty years, the United States has evolved toward a system in which funding of long-term basic research has become the province of the federal government and investment in short-term applied research and development has remained largely in the domain of private industry. Market forces alone, however, cannot drive the adoption of energy-efficiency technologies in a beneficially sustained manner, especially within the time-frame imposed by the challenges of global warming and U.S. energy security.
What should the federal government do to make sure the appropriate research is undertaken to meet our energy needs?
Congress should periodically review the Energy Frontiers Research Centers program to ensure that basic research related to energy efficiency receives adequate attention and the U.S. Department of Energy should fully comply with the 2005 Energy Policy Act mandate to improve the coordination between its basic and applied research activities. Unfortunately, long-term applied research, whether it is general or strategic in nature, often is the orphan child of science and technology programming. That is why APS believes the DOE must take steps now to fold long-term applied research into its scientific programming in a more serious way than it currently does.
How do you prioritize the recommendations in your report?
Prioritizing policy recommendations that will achieve the greatest efficiencies is not within the purview of this study. That is best left to the Congress and the White House. The purpose of this study is to state as clearly as possible that appropriate government policies must be adopted to encourage the development and implementation of technological advances that will have the greatest possible impact on U.S. energy security and on the potentially devastating effects of global warming.
Why did Congress and the Administration fail to fund new DOE programs in this area?
That is a question best directed to members of Congress and the White House. It is fair to say, however, government is best equipped to address current problems rather than future ones. In other words, the wolf must be at the doorstep to get the attention of lawmakers. Unfortunately, the wolf has appeared suddenly in the form of dramatically higher energy costs and potentially devastating climate change. Unless we respond effectively to these looming dangers with sound policies that encourage energy efficiency through technological innovation, our house and those in it could be in peril.
Which presidential candidate’s position on energy do you think is best?
This is not a partisan report. We believe the findings of this report will be enthusiastically embraced by those concerned about America’s energy future. This is an issue of such enormous significance that it transcends convention politics. The conclusions of this bi-partisan study are based upon sound scientific principles that have proven successful in the past and will work again in solving today’s energy crisis. Unquestionably, the American people need leadership from the Congress and the next president on this issue. Both Senators McCain and Obama have talked about the need for improving the nation’s energy efficiency and the importance of new technologies to our energy future. We appreciate their attention to and the discussion of these important energy solutions and encourage them to continue educating the American people about ways in which research and technology can ensure the promise of tomorrow.
Who was involved in writing this report?
The report was developed by APS and prepared by an 11-person Study Committee composed of APS members, including two Nobel laureates, and policy experts covering a broad spectrum of backgrounds and specialties between [Date and Date]. The committee also received outstanding and invaluable assistance from the Study Group Research & Editorial Staff and the Study Group Administrative Staff. You will find a complete list of committee members and staff below.
APS Study Group Members
Argonne National Laboratory
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Natural Resources Defense Council
David Goldston, Vice-Chair
Former Chief of Staff,
House Science Committee
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
University of California, Berkeley
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
American Physical Society &
Department of Physics, CCNY
Burton Richter, Chair
Stanford Linear Accelerator Center,
The Advisory Group
University of California, Davis
Study Group Research & Editorial Staff
Fred Schlachter American Physical Society
American Institute for Physics
Study Group Administrative Staff
American Physical Society
Stanford Linear Accelerator Center,