Energy Efficiency

Physicists release report pushing for greater efficiency in transportation and building sectors

With energy legislation discussions in full focus on Capitol Hill and the campaign trail, how can energy efficiency help fill in the policy puzzle? During today's OnPoint, David Goldston, a former House Science Committee chief of staff and chairman of the American Physical Society's new report, "Energy Future: Think Efficiency," explains why he believes there has been a gap between technological advancements and energy policy in recent years. Goldston lays out a plan for the next president to address energy challenges through efficiency, and he discusses the main hurdles the efficiency sector needs to overcome in the short and long term.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to the show. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With us today is David Goldston, former chief of staff for the House Science Committee. David is vice-chair of the American Physical Society's new report on energy efficiency. David, thanks for being here.

David Goldston: Thanks for having me.

Monica Trauzzi: APS's new report provides a roadmap for reducing America's dependence on foreign oil and also its contribution to global warming, all of this through the energy efficiency. Why did APS set out to write this report and study?

David Goldston: Well, it was clear that energy policy was going to be a major issue in the next administration, whoever wins. APS had done a major report back in 1975 on energy efficiency that actually helped set the research agenda for much of the 1970s and afterwards on that. And it looked like it was time to look at this again. There's a lot of discussion of energy policy of course, but energy efficiency often sort of is the stepchild that gets looked at it, but not sufficiently. And so that's what we thought should be the focal point for the American Physical Society.

Monica Trauzzi: And it really sounds like a major focus of the report is that we need to keep developing new technologies, but that the policies need to keep pace with the development of those new technologies. Where have we misstepped in the past few years when it comes to that?

David Goldston: Right, so that's exactly the point, is that we have sort of three main points. One that energy efficiency is a primary way to get at the energy problem, second that part of it is R&D, and third, as you were just asking about, is policy. And often Congress, because it's easier to look at that, just says let's put some more money in R&D, although that hasn't been sufficient either, and forget about the policy. And our view is that if all you do is R&D, then you get new ideas that don't make it into the marketplace. So there's a range of policies that need to be looked at, at both the state and federal levels, doing things that make it so that utilities don't lose money if they encourage people to cut back on energy. Tax incentives to use better energy-saving products, appliance standards that make sure that the appliances on the market are as energy-efficient as possible, labeling programs so that people know what they're actually getting and not getting, building energy codes, all these things, there are pieces of it done. But they've either not been done at all or in most cases just not been done sufficiently. And so what we're saying is you can't get out of this problem without R&D, but you also can't get out of this problem only with R&D.

Monica Trauzzi: So, how are you hoping this study will impact the energy discussions we're seeing on the campaign trail and also on Capitol Hill right now?

David Goldston: Well, the good news is, I mean first of all, that those discussions are going on and they're getting a lot of attention. Both presidential candidates and most members of Congress have said energy efficiency should be part of the solution, but we'd like to see that be a higher profile part of the solution. People tend to start talking about energy supply, regardless of whether they're talking about oil or renewables, and energy efficiency just sort of falls off the map for some reason. It seems more mundane and yet that's, again, where a lot of the most economical, quickest changes can be made and we want to make sure that that gets highlighted. We've been saying that there ought to be a chant, "Save, baby, save," that that's got to be one of the areas that we have as part of energy policy. The other misunderstanding that happens, two such misunderstandings that tend to sometimes cause energy efficiency to drop off the agenda, one is that, well, energy efficiency is good, but it's just one of these things that everyone has to do on their own. You know, change your light bulbs, that sort of thing. And that's obviously important, but that's not enough. You need to have the research to create new products and, as we've talk about already, you need policies that actually help these get into the marketplace. This is not something that can be done just by individuals acting alone. And the other sort of barrier to energy efficiency, which is an old one sort of lying around from the last time as we worried about this in the 70s, is, oh, it just means turning down your thermostat. It means being more uncomfortable. That's not true. Technology means we can have the conveniences we have now and yet be more energy efficient. But, again, that involves more than just individual action.

Monica Trauzzi: Is there also this misconception that as long as we're using renewables or cleaner forms of energy that we don't really need to conserve because we're not really harming the environment if we're using something cleaner?

David Goldston: I think there probably is that misconception. Now, if it's truly renewable sources it may not matter as much, but very, very little of our energy now is renewables. If you leave out hydro, it's a couple of percentages that come from that. We're a long way from having the kind of energy system where we'll have to trouble ourselves about does efficiency matter? And, obviously, on the transportation side, that's where most of our oil goes and most of that oil is imported. Again, there's a lot we can do right now, that we need to do to reduce that.

Monica Trauzzi: OK, on transportation, in the report you say that plug-in hybrids are a ways away, hydrogen fuel cells are a ways away. What we do in the interim, in the near term, to be more efficient with our vehicles?

David Goldston: Right, so one thing we do say is that the new fuel economy standards that passed in 2007 are reachable and they need to be met, the 35 miles per gallon by 2020. We say that even without these more radical new technologies that we can get to 50 miles per gallon by 2030 and probably more than that, so we say at least 50 miles per gallon. So that's using versions of technology we have now in terms of internal combustion engines, hybrid, perhaps diesel and so forth. And so that's without any great leap forward, we can do significantly better than we're doing now. And that's, I would say, probably a conservative estimate. Then beyond that, plug-in hybrids seem to be the next thing up. There is some debate about how close we are. We'll see when GM rolls out the Volt how far we can get, literally and figuratively. But there's no question that that technology is moving ahead and that developing the battery is the key element there. Beyond plug-ins, then there are still a lot of breakthroughs that are needed to get to either all electric at an affordable rate or hydrogen. So those are things that need to be worked on longer-term, but existing technologies, pushing the technologies through policy again, and then moving toward plug-ins, that's the next few steps. But we don't have to be stuck in neutral just because we don't have the new technology yet.

Monica Trauzzi: Why doesn't the LEED system for buildings do enough for energy efficiency? Isn't the whole thing behind LEED to make cleaner, greener buildings?

David Goldston: So, LEED is the labeling system for green buildings and there are many aspects for green buildings, water use, what materials are being used and so forth. And a lot of people assume, although the LEED people don't say anything misleading, but people just assume that a LEED building must be more energy efficient. That's part of environment. But the way the LEED standards are configured, actually, energy is a very small piece of it. And so LEED buildings often are not more energy efficient. In addition, there's really not a lot of good data on how energy efficient LEED buildings are. There's a sample of LEED buildings that was taken by the New Buildings Institute, which is what we looked at in the report, and that doesn't look like these buildings are generally more energy efficient, at least not by enough. So, what we argue for is that the LEED standard, which gets updated all the time, needs to put much more weight on energy efficiency. If energy use and greenhouse gas emissions are two of the largest national security and economic and environmental issues that we have, then the LEED standard, we are saying, ought to reflect that more. So this standard, as I said, needs to be updated so that it really does take energy efficiency into account more than it does now. The other thing is we need a lot more data on how all buildings, but especially LEED buildings, actually perform. Most of the LEED certification and so forth is based on projections and models before buildings are actually operating. We need to test that to see what actually is happening in the field. And, again, that's true not just for LEED buildings, but across the board.

Monica Trauzzi: So, if you have the opportunity to create a plan for the next president of how they should address energy efficiency in their first year or two in office, what would you tell them?

David Goldston: So, starting with the easier pieces, which are research and development, that the research and development in both the transportation and building sectors, which are the two that we looked at, needs to be increased and somewhat refocused. So, on transportation batteries are the big stumbling block for almost all the technologies that are coming down the line. The auto companies are obviously doing research in that area as well, but there needs to be both fundamental research and what we call long-term applied research on batteries. And that needs to be increased. In the building sector, where the private sector does a lot less research than in autos, because there's not a few big companies that are doing all the work, the government needs to really ramp-up its efforts. We do almost R&D know, not to mention demonstration programs, on commercial buildings. What little we have tends to be in the residential building area and yet commercial buildings, given the number of people in them, use a lot of energy and could become much more efficient. So we say that the amount should be increased by 2 1/2 times within three to five years. Where that figure comes from is that would put it back in real terms to where it was in the 1970s when that research was at its height. So that's the first thing, we want research and development. As we have already talked about, that's not enough. So on policies, we need policies that make sure that these products get to market and that the market has to be open to them. So, on autos there's a range of things you can, fee-bates, fuel economy standards, tax incentives. You may want to do these in a certain order, push the technology forward with fee-bates or tax incentives and then, once it's moved forward, have a mandate. The same kinds of things on appliances; again, building codes, programs where utilities help consumers figure out how to save energy. There's a range of things that the government can do, again, at different levels, but there needs to be policies. Most of these would be building on things that are going on now, but just have not been ramped-up sufficiently.

Monica Trauzzi: I was seeing a lot of dollar signs as you were talking. How much money are we talking about here to get all these programs in place and get to the place where we need to be down the road?

David Goldston: So, we haven't put an exact dollar level on them, except for the building area where we're talking about going from $100 million a year to $250 million a year. The battery research now is about 50 million. We didn't have the time to figure out exactly how much that would ramp-up, but if you doubled it, then that would be another $50 million a year. The other programs, the actual upfront costs, in terms of the government, are fairly small. There would be some upfront costs for consumers. Everything in this report, especially on the building side, is based on the notion that consumers would make back in energy savings as much or more likely much more than they added up front. So these are based on cost-effective things that the consumer would actually benefit from. And one of the frustrating things now and one of the reasons that we say policy is so important is there are a lot of technologies out there right now, on buildings for example, where consumers would make money, but it's either because of inertia or they don't know or in some cases it's not that much money for the individual consumer, but if you add it up across the economy it's huge, people don't do that. So most people now, if they bother to have an energy audit of their home and make it more energy-efficient, only doing things that will pay back in a reasonable amount of time, they can reduce energy by 15 to 25 percent. But most people don't bother to do that. We should be doing things to make it more worth their while to take that step where they'll actually benefit economically, but the benefit hasn't been big enough or they haven't been aware of it enough to take that step on their own.

Monica Trauzzi: OK, we're going to end it right there on that note.

David Goldston: OK.

Monica Trauzzi: Thanks for coming on the show.

David Goldston: Thanks for having me.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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