The energy-efficiency community welcomes the federal government's renewed emphasis on implementing new technologies to save energy, money, and the environment. A product of this new direction is the Climate Change Action Plan, which aims to cap U.S. carbon dioxide emissions at 1990 levels by the year 2000. Building energy efficiency will play a major role in the plan in the form of strategies like:
But let's not lose sight of R&D, the very activity that made today's new technologies available. Furthermore, stabilizing emissions by the year 2000 is just the beginning of what's needed to cope with the specter of global warming. Maintaining even modest emission reductions beyond the year 2000 means keeping the energy-efficiency pipeline flowing, through continued new development as well as the debugging of existing technology and delivery mechanisms. That expression ''technology is here'' in this case isn't quite correct.
Let's look at the benefits and costs of LBL's first 17 years of energy-efficiency R&D, then estimate future benefits. Technological developments in which LBL has played a lead or supporting role include electronic ballasts, compact fluorescents, and low-emissivity glazings. At saturation, these three technologies will be saving $17 billion a year, or the equivalent of 38 electric power plants, 140 offshore oil platforms, or 50 million 25-mile-per-gallon cars on the road. How many years of annual benefit can we claim? The R&D probably advanced commercialization by at least five years, giving U.S. industry a five-year advantage over foreign competition.
If the commercial availability of these new technologies was accelerated by just that amount, the original benefit/cost ratio of DOE's R&D investment is about 14,000:1 ($17 billion/year times five years divided by a total DOE investment of $6 million)!
In fact, for our entire research program, including technology development and other activities, each research year has cost the U.S. Department of Energy about $10 million. This cost compares with $17 billion of savings per year over 17 years of R&D, amounting to $1 billion in savings for each year of research-and that's only savings to the present from technology that has yet to saturate the market. This incomplete saturation suggests what we need to do next.
The great challenge in the coming decades will be to link R&D and implementation. Meeting it will require improved analytical methods for tracking savings and product performance, intelligently commissioned energy-efficiency measures to ensure they perform as intended, and brand-new technologies. Some exciting things on the horizon include:
Together, these new technologies and approaches-along with potential enhancements to appliance standards-stand to save about 120 GW of electrical generating capacity. That's equivalent to about one Climate Change Action Plan in saved carbon dioxide (representing ~110 megatons of carbon) and the energy generated by all U.S. nuclear power plants.
However, none of these technologies are completely market-ready. Notably, most of them received their initial support not from DOE but from gas and electric utilities. The California Institute for Energy Efficiency, funded by the California utilities, has been especially successful in this arena (see CIEE Conference at Berkeley). It remains to be seen how the utilities and government can support efficient energy technology development more effectively.
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