Why Obama is right about energy efficiency

In his State of the Union address, President Obama called on America to improve energy efficiency, which is essential if the US is to maintain its global economic leadership

Over the next 20 years, President Obama wants America to ‘cut in half the energy wasted’ by homes and business; in other words, a doubling of America’s energy productivity by 2030. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy and other compelling indications of climate change, he also wants CO2 emissions cut (2013 State of the Union address).Considering that energy consumption per capita in the US is 60% higher than the OECD average (USA energy efficiency report 2012), simply moving the US into line with other developed economies would go a long way towards the achieving the president’s goal.

Even so, many Americans and congressmen will question whether these targets are achievable and, if so, whether they are worth the presumed cost to the economy.

From a technological point of view, President Obama’s targets are certainly achievable. The technology is already available and with proper information and the right incentives, the general public and businesses in particular are likely to adopt measures to reduce energy consumption and their bills. A simple example is motors, most of which are either not controlled or controlled through inefficient mechanical systems, and therefore run at full power, irrespective of the load they have to carry, wasting vast amounts of energy. Another concerns wasteful practices, for example when it comes to (over-)heating or cooling buildings.

From an economic perspective, the arguments for improving the energy efficiency of the United States are even more compelling. One reason is simply the growing global demand for electricity, which has slowed but is still expected to grow by 23% by 2035. Investments will be required in the coming years to meet this demand growth while ensuring the US energy supply model is efficient and cost competitive.

Now is arguably the best time to implement such measures. Not long ago, it was widely assumed that reducing CO2 emissions and shifting towards sustainable energy sources would weaken economic growth, if not tip the economy into recession. Now, with gasoline prices close to record levels and the benefits of America’s (limited) investments in energy becoming apparent, the discussion has shifted to what extent America should embrace the energy revolution.

Politically, the timing is also on the president’s side: he is secure in office for his final term, America’s tax code is soon to be revised – a golden opportunity to include incentives to reward green initiatives – and with the economy picking up steam, confidence (and funding) for infrastructure renewal should be easier to come by.

Image courtesy of the White House Press Room

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About the author

Jonas Hughes

I am a writer and editor in the Corporate Communications department of ABB. I have worked as a journalist and communicator in Switzerland, Britain, North America and South Africa, and am interested in how technology affects the lives of ordinary people.
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