Road to a New Energy Future
America can and must move away from our dependence on oil and other fossil fuels and toward a New Energy Future. We can do this by tapping into our abundant supplies of clean, renewable, home-grown energy sources and by deploying our technological know-how to use energy more efficiently.
Recognizing the promise of energy efficiency and renewable energy to transform our economy, a group of environmental, consumer, labor and civic organizations have endorsed the New Energy Future platform, which consists of the following four goals:
• Reduce our dependence on oil by saving one-third of the oil we use today by 2025 (7 million barrels per day).
• Harness clean, renewable, homegrown energy sources like wind, solar and farmbased biofuels for at least a quarter of all energy needs by 2025.
• Save energy with high performance homes, buildings and appliances so that by 2025 we use 10 percent less energy than we do today.
• Invest in a New Energy Future by committing $30 billion over the next 10 years to the New Energy for America Initiative, thus tripling research and development funding for the energy-saving and renewable energy technologies we need to achieve these goals.
In fall 2006, we released a white paper describing a plausible scenario for achieving those targets and estimating the benefits in terms of fossil fuel savings that would result. According to that analysis, America could achieve major reductions in the use of all fossil fuels by realizing the goals of the New Energy Future platform. By 2025, America could:
• Save 10.8 million barrels of oil per day, equal to four-fifths the amount of oil we currently import from all other nations in the world.
• Save 9.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas per year, nearly twice as much as is currently used annually in all of America’s homes and more than is currently used in all of America’s industrial facilities.
• Save 900 million tons of coal per year, or about 80 percent of all the coal we consumed in the United States in 2005.
• Save 1.7 billion megawatt-hours of electricity per year, 30 percent more than was used in all the households in America in 2005.
Achieving these fossil fuel savings would help solve many of America’s pressing energy problems – ranging from dependence on foreign oil to global warming – and would likely do so while creating jobs and contributing to the longterm stability of America’s economy. This paper describes the technologies – many of which exist today – that can enable America to achieve the goals of the New Energy Future platform.
Energy Efficiency Technologies
Numerous technologies exist to reduce energy use in homes and businesses:
• Home weatherization – including air sealing, insulation and window replacement – can cut energy use for home heating by 20 to 30 percent.
• Efficient furnaces, like those meeting federal Energy Star standards, can cut energy use for heating by 20 percent compared to today’s furnaces and by 40 percent compared to those 20 years old or older.
• Solar and heat pump water heaters can reduce energy use for water heating by half to two-thirds, and more water-efficient clothes washers and dishwashers can provide additional savings.
• Businesses can save energy, too. Wal-Mart, for example, has already committed to reducing its in-store energy use by 20 percent. And one recent analysis found that the use of more efficient motors and improved controls in the industrial, electric and commercial sectors could reduce total U.S. electricity demand by as much as 15 to 25 percent.
• New technologies and combinations of technologies – such as those included in zero-energy homes and low-energy commercial buildings – could lead to even more dramatic reductions in fossil fuel use in homes, business and industry in the years to come.
Oil Saving Technologies
America can significantly reduce its consumption of oil by making cars go farther on a gallon of gasoline, reducing the rate of growth of vehicle travel, and using plant-based fuels to substitute for some of the oil we use for transportation.
• Fuel-efficient technologies like advanced engines and transmissions and improved electronics can improve the fuel economy of today’s cars by 50 percent or more, while hybrid-electric and other advanced vehicles make a 45 miles per gallon fuel economy standard feasible within the next two decades. Similar improvements can be made to the fuel economy of heavy-duty trucks.
• High gasoline prices are already reducing the growth of vehicle travel in the United States, but expanding the range of transportation choices – through expanded transit and increased support for carpooling, telecommuting, walking and biking – could enable more Americans to avoid high prices at the pump and increasingly frustrating commutes.
• Production of plant-based fuels like ethanol and biodiesel in the United States has more than doubled over the last four years, helping to reduce our dependence on petroleum. New technologies that convert plant residues and energy crops into biofuels could make biofuels a more promising alternative and allow us to further reduce our use of oil in transportation.
• New automotive technologies – like “plugin” hybrids – are being developed that could bring the dream of 100 MPG cars within reach, or even eliminate the use of oil in vehicles altogether.
Renewable Energy Technologies
America has access to immense renewable energy resources from the sun, earth and crops and from the movement of wind and water. The technology to tap those resources is advancing rapidly and is increasingly competitive in cost with fossil fuel technologies.
• The wind blowing through the Great Plains could generate enough electricity to power the entire country. Wind power installations in the United States have doubled over the last four years, and wind power is among the cheapest sources of new power generation in some parts of the country.
• Solar energy could conceivably generate more than enough electricity to power the entire United States. The cost of solar panels has declined dramatically in recent years and solar power installations worldwide nearly doubled between 2002 and 2004. Continued advances in solar technology could bring solar power within reach of more Americans within the next several years.
• Plant-based sources of energy, called “biomass,” already provide a substantial amount of energy in America and can provide even more. A federal advisory group has set a target of having biomass account for 5 percent of industrial and electric generator energy use by 2020.
• Immense amounts of energy are contained within the earth. Experts estimate that as much as 100,000 megawatts of geothermal power – equal to about 10 percent of today’s electricity generation capacity – could be economically viable in the United States.
Improving today’s clean energy technologies and developing tomorrow’s technologies requires a substantial investment in federal energy research and development.
• Federal investment in clean energy research and development (R&D) has resulted in many technological breakthroughs with big dividends for America’s economy. A study by the National Academy of Sciences estimated that R&D breakthroughs in just six energy efficiency technologies yielded economic benefits of about $30 billion on an R&D investment of about $400 million – a return on investment of 75-to-1.
• Federal investment in energy research and development has declined dramatically from its peak during the energy crises of the late 1970s and early 1980s. The United States now spends less than half as much on energy R&D programs in the public and private sectors as it did in 1980. Clean energy programs have faced continued funding pressure in recent Bush administration budget proposals.
• Increasing federal clean energy research and development funding to $3 billion per year – about triple today’s funding level – over 10 years would enable researchers to focus on several goals:
o Improving the performance and economic competitiveness of existing clean energy technologies.
o Redesigning our energy system to remove existing hurdles to improved energy efficiency and the integration of renewable energy into our economy.
o Designing new energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies.
o Reducing the cost of producing clean energy technologies and coordinating “real world” demonstration of those technologies.
o Addressing any social or environmental impacts of clean energy technologies.
The United States should adopt the goals of the New Energy Future platform and marshal the political, economic and scientific resources necessary to meet those goals.
Public policy changes can play an important role in advancing the nation toward the goals of the New Energy Future platform. The following policies would represent a strong first step:
Energy Efficiency in Homes, Business and Industry
• Set strong energy efficiency standards for household and commercial appliances.
• Strengthen residential and commercial building codes and ensure that they are adequately enforced.
• Require utilities to meet growing energy needs through energy efficiency improvements before building new power plants.
• Expand and invest in energy efficiency programs to help homeowners and businesses install the latest technologies in their homes and businesses.
• Eliminate obstacles to the use of combined heat and power (CHP), which would dramatically improve opportunities for industrial and commercial energy efficiency.
• Increase fuel economy standards for cars, light trucks and SUVs to 45 miles per gallon over the next decade-and-a-half and set strong fuel economy standards for heavy-duty trucks.
• Set goals for the use of plant-based fuels like ethanol and biodiesel and enact policies that ensure that those fuels are developed cleanly and efficiently.
• Encourage the development and use of advanced technology vehicles like “plugin” hybrids that can achieve 100 miles per gallon of gasoline or more.
• Invest in expanded and improved public transit service, promote “smart growth” practices that reduce the need for driving, and encourage other transportation choices like telecommuting, carpooling, biking and walking.
• Enact a national renewable energy standard, similar to those already in place in 20 states, that would require a minimum percentage of the nation’s electricity to come from renewable sources.
• Increase research and development funding to develop the next generation of renewable energy technologies.
• Provide consistent, long-term tax incentives for the installation of renewable energy technologies.
• Require utilities to prioritize renewable energy development over the construction of conventional power plants to satisfy electricity demand.