APS News

Richter To Chair APS Energy Efficiency Study

Nobel Laureate Burton Richter

Former APS President and Nobel Laureate Burton Richter will chair a newly-established APS study group charged with producing a report on energy efficiency. The study will focus primarily on buildings (commercial and residential, including appliances) and transportation (primarily cars and trucks). Buildings and transportation account for more than 70% of total domestic carbon emissions.

According to the study group charge, “Improving energy efficiency is the simplest and least costly means available to reduce US oil consumption and carbon emissions, but the US is not doing enough to capitalize on energy efficiency either at home or in the products it exports. Improving energy efficiency must be one part of a portfolio of approaches for treating the US “oil addiction” and reducing its output of greenhouse gases.”

“First on everyone’s list, whether you’re concerned about global warming or energy supply security, should be conservation and efficiency,” said Richter.

“The APS did a seminal study on efficiency in 1975,” he said.  “It’s been a long time, and the APS is coming back to the efficiency issue. This study will review where we are, and hopes to define the most promising areas of development for the future.”

 The study group will address the following questions: 1) What gains in energy efficiency are technically feasible, and over what periods of time? 2) What basic and applied research, development and demonstration need to be conducted and/or funded by government and industry to achieve the technically feasible gains in energy efficiency? 3) What changes in government programs are needed to accomplish that research, development and demonstration, and what changes in government policy are needed to facilitate the success of new energy-efficient technologies in the marketplace?

Energy-efficiency is “clearly an area where we can get the greatest gains most quickly for the least cost,” said study group vice chair David Goldston, who formerly served as staff director of the House Science Committee. Energy has been an important topic in the news and in Congress recently, but few studies have focused on the technical aspects of the research and development needed to improve efficiency, he said. This is a natural area for APS to make contribution.

Energy efficiency research is an area that has been under-funded, said Goldston. The study group, which includes experts on buildings and transportation, will look at what areas of research and development we most need to focus on, and will provide a prioritized research agenda.

Changes in policy are also necessary, said Goldston. “That said, there’s a lot we can do with the research, so that will be our primary focus” in this study, he said.

The study will be designed to be useful to both policymakers and researchers, and will include technical detail as well as a short policy supplement. The target release date for the completed study is summer 2008.

The APS has a long-standing interest in energy issues. In 2000, the Council approved a statement saying  that, “The Council of the American Physical Society believes that the use of renewable energy sources, the adoption of new ways of producing and using fossil fuels, increased consideration of safe and cost effective uses of nuclear power, and the introduction of energy-efficient technologies can, over time, promote the United States’ energy security and reduce stress on the world’s environment.… we urge the adoption of policies that promote efficiency and innovation throughout the energy system, including conservation and the development of alternatives to fossil fuels.”

Richter received the Nobel Prize in 1976, and served as APS President in 1994. He is the Director Emeritus of SLAC, and has also chaired the Physics Policy Committee of the APS. Goldston left the Science Committee of the US House of Representatives last year, and is now scholar in residence at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

The other study group members are: George Crabtree, Argonne National Laboratory; Leon Glicksman, MIT; David Goldstein, Natural Resources Defense Council; David Greene, Oak Ridge National Laboratory; Daniel Kammen, University of California, Berkeley; Richard G. Newell, Duke University; Maxine Savitz, The Advisory Group (a consulting group); Daniel Sperling, University of California, Davis.

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Contributing Editor: Jennifer Ouellette
Staff Writer: Ernie Tretkoff