APS News

October 2008 (Volume 17, Number 9)

Energy Efficiency Crucial to Achieving Energy Security and Reducing Global Warming, States APS Report

Energy Efficiency Report Cover
Tapping wasted energy from inefficient automobiles, homes and businesses is equivalent to discovering a hidden energy reserve that will help the United States improve its energy security and reduce global warming, an APS study panel has concluded.

Their report, Energy Future: Think Efficiency, states that the key to unlocking the efficiency potential is developing policies that will put technology into the marketplace and developing new technologies through applied and basic research in the public and private sectors.

The study panel concluded that increased energy efficiency, particularly in the transportation and building sectors, will help eliminate US reliance on foreign oil and reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming.

Most recommendations addressing high fuel costs focus on either increasing the supply of oil or finding a substitute fuel, but the APS report offers a practical roadmap with short-term and longer-term solutions for reducing demand through cost-effective efficiencies that find public and political acceptance.

The report provides a path to 50 miles per gallon mileage for cars and other light-duty vehicles by 2030 and the elimination of energy from fossil fuels in new residential buildings by 2020.  

It also states that the federal government should broaden its research, development and demonstration programs, particularly in the areas of batteries for conventional hybrid vehicles, plug-in hybrids and battery electric vehicles. The report credits automakers for devoting resources to the development of hydrogen fuel cell and plug-in hybrid vehicles, but concludes that they are not a solution to the nation’s short-term energy needs because they require significant scientific and engineering breakthroughs in several critical areas.  

The study also calls on Congress and the White House to increase spending on research and development of next-generation building technologies, training scientists who work on building technologies and supporting associated national laboratory, university and private-sector research programs. Additionally, it recommends that lawmakers develop policies that address a wide-array of market barriers that discourage consumers from adopting investment in energy-efficient technologies, especially in the highly fragmented building sector.

The American people need leadership from the Congress and the next president on this issue, said Nobel Laureate Burton Richter, chair of the study committee and director emeritus of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. Both Senators McCain and Obama have outlined plans for improving energy efficiency and defining the important role new technologies will play in our energy future. The next president of the United States will have an opportunity to be the first in history to lay the necessary groundwork to reduce energy use among Americans.

Among its other key findings and recommendations based on the 12-month study are:


  • The federal government should adopt new standards for light-duty vehicles that average 50 miles per gallon or more by 2030.

  • Vehicle weight can be significantly reduced through design and new materials without compromising safety. Vehicle weight reductions of 20 percent, for example, achieved by greater use of high-strength steel, aluminum and composite materials, would improve fuel economy by approximately 14 percent while reducing traffic injuries and fatalities.  

  • Plug-in hybrids require more efficient and more durable batteries, able to withstand deep discharges that are not yet in commercial large-scale production. Given the technical difficulties, plug-in hybrids will not replace the standard American family car in the near term.

  • Improvements in the US electric grid must be made in order to handle charging of electric vehicles if daytime charging is to occur on a large scale or when the market penetration of electric vehicles becomes significant.  

  • Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) are not a short-term solution to our oil needs, but rather a long-term option requiring fundamental science and engineering breakthroughs in several areas.


  • To achieve the 2030 zero energy building goal for commercial buildings, the federal government should create a research, development and demonstration program that makes integrated design and operation of buildings standard practice.

  • Green building rating systems should give energy efficiency the highest priority and require reporting of energy consumption data.

  • The federal government should establish a comprehensive program of efficiency standards and labeling for appliances that are cost-effective and technologically feasible. A streamlined procedure is needed to avoid delays in releasing the standards.  

  • States should be encouraged to create demand-side, utility management programs.

  • Energy standards for buildings should be implemented nationwide.  

  • Longer-term applied research opportunities include advanced ventilation, advanced windows, thermodynamic cycles and ultra-thin insulators.

Government Action:  Legislative

  • Congress should appropriate and the White House should approve for the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Science funds that are consistent with the spending profiles specified in the 2005 Energy Policy Act and the 2007 America COMPETES Act.  

  •  Congressional oversight committees should ensure that DOE fulfills its obligation. Historically, coordination among basic and applied research programs within the Department of Energy has been far from ideal. Congress should periodically review the Energy Frontiers Research Centers program to ensure that basic research related to energy efficiency receives adequate attention.

  • Estimating the long-term effects of transportation infrastructure on transportation demand should become a required component of the transportation planning process, and to that end, a better understanding of social science is needed.

Government Action: Executive

  • DOE should fully comply with the 2005 Energy Policy Act mandate to improve the coordination between its basic and applied research activities.  

  • Long-term applied research, whether it is general or strategic in nature, often is the orphan child of science and technology programming. DOE must take steps now to fold long-term applied research into its scientific programming in a more serious way than it currently does.  

  • Smart growth policies in planning urban and transportation infrastructure can contribute to energy efficiency by reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMT) by 10 to 30 percent by 2030 compared to business as usual.

For a full copy of the APS report Energy Future: Think Efficiency and related materials, go to the APS Energy Efficiency Report website.

APS encourages the redistribution of the materials included in this newspaper provided that attribution to the source is noted and the materials are not truncated or changed.

Editor: Alan Chodos
Staff Writer: Ernie Tretkoff
Contributing Editor: Jennifer Ouellette
Science Writing Intern: Nadia Ramlagan

October 2008 (Volume 17, Number 9)

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Articles in this Issue
Energy Efficiency Crucial to Achieving Energy Security and Reducing Global Warming, States APS Report
Members Elect Barry Barish as Next APS Vice-President
LHC Start-Up was a Long Time Coming
Three Women Receive Blewett Scholarships in 2008
Four APS Members Receive National Medal of Science
Agreement Lets APS Members Provide Expertise to Industry
Physicist Tilts at Diploma Mills
The Back Page
Members in the Media
This Month in Physics History
Zero Gravity: The Lighter Side of Science
Washington Dispatch
International News
Profiles In Versatility
Focus on APS Topical Groups