Germany is the winner and the United States, although showing some signs of progress, remains far from the top rung. World Cup soccer? Yes, but also energy efficiency efforts, according to new rankings released on Thursday.

Based on both policy and performance, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy’s International Scorecard put Germany first among the 16 major economies – accounting for 81 percent of global output – that were studied. Italy was second and the European Union as a whole was third. The United States sat far down the list in the 13th spot. The U.S. performed especially poorly in the transportation sector, ranking 15th.

“I’m excited about this report, but not excited about the U.S. place in this report,” Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vermont) said in an ACEEE-organized conference call. Welch has been working with Colorado Republican Cory Gardner on legislation to expand the use of energy performance contracting in federal buildings, one of a number of bills with bipartisan support that hasn’t been able to make it through one of the least productive Congresses in memory.

There might be no better example of this disconnect than the fate of a bill by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire) and Rob Portman (D-Ohio) to strengthen efficiency standards for federal, commercial and residential buildings and boost investment in energy-saving technologies, among other measures. Described by Politico as “innocuous and popular,” it fell victim to Keystone XL pipeline political maneuvering. (See related story: U.S. Efficiency Bill Dies Again in Congress)

Nevertheless, the ACEEE report did acknowledge some U.S. progress “in such areas as building codes, appliance standards, voluntary partnerships between government and industry, and, recently, fuel economy standards for passenger vehicles and heavy-duty trucks.” And there’s hope that proposed new Environmental Protection Agency rules on carbon emissions could spur states to act to improve energy efficiency. (See related: “Four Key Takeaways From EPA’s New Rule for Power Plants“)

“Energy efficiency will get a lot more attention if EPA finalizes this rule,” ACEEE Executive Director Steven Nadel said. “Energy efficiency is the low-cost compliance path for basically all the states – it often does the majority of what each state needs to do to meet the target.” The EPA has committed to finalizing the rule by next June.

This was the ACEEE’s second International Scorecard, but with adjusted metrics and four new countries included – India, Mexico, South Korea and Spain – the nonprofit organization said it provided both a broader and more precise picture of the state of energy efficiency around the world.

One of the more impressive results in the report was the showing of China, which improved from eighth all the way up to fourth. Westerners accustomed to grim images of pollution-shrouded Chinese cities might have expected China to be down near the bottom, but as Nadel noted, “pollution and efficiency are related, but they’re not the same thing.”

China did well in all four of the broad categories that went into the rankings – national efforts, buildings, industry and transportation – and even finished atop the rankings in buildings. But China still accounts for more than half the world’s coal consumption, and is the world leader in total carbon dioxide emissions.

It’s this sort of contradiction that leads some to question whether energy efficiency improvements can do as much as groups like the International Energy Agency and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change expect in the battle against global warming. The pro-nuclear Breakthrough Institute, for example, argues that predicted efficiency-driven improvements in energy intensity – energy expended per unit of output – are overstated and that more focus should go to decreasing the carbon intensity of the energy supply.

The ACEEE, for its part, doesn’t mention climate change in the new report. It instead presents energy efficiency as a way to “use fewer resources to achieve the same goals, thus reducing costs, preserving valuable resources, and gain a competitive edge over other countries.”


  1. Hunter Ruthrauff
    San Diego, CA
    August 20, 2014, 3:41 pm

    Can you guys expand on who the architect is that designed the transit depot in Munich? I can only find two images online of this project with no info and am assuming that the green tubes in the center are algae bioreactors. Any confirmation on this? Thanks!

  2. Pete Danko
    August 18, 2014, 5:10 pm

    Indeed, as noted in the second paragraph of our story, the report counts both policy and performance. ACEEE says that it is trying to paint a more complex, forward-looking picture of energy efficiency than is revealed by energy intensity alone (which you focus on in your summation, and where the U.S. ranks 10th among the 16 countries scored). Here’s what serves pretty well, I think, as an explanation for why and how they do that, from the Methodology section of the report:

    “We identified a list of indicators, or metrics, that together reflect the level of energy efficiency across a nation’s economy and its commitment to energy efficiency. We then sought the advice of a group of expert advisors and revised the list according to their input. We reviewed the existing literature and research on the topics on the revised list and identified mechanisms by which to measure the indicators. The result was the conversion of the list of indicators into 31 metrics. These metrics are divided roughly in half between policies and quantifiable measures of performance. The policy metrics were evaluated by the presence of best-practice policies, such as a national target for energy savings, fuel economy standards for vehicles, and energy efficiency standards for appliances. The performance metrics measure energy use and provide quantifiable data. Examples of performance metrics include the ratio of energy consumed by a country to its GDP, the average miles per gallon (mpg) of on-road passenger vehicles, and the energy consumed per square foot of floor space in residential buildings. To facilitate comparisons between countries, we normalized many of the results using variables such as population or GDP. A description of this process is included in the discussion below of each metric for which the results were normalized.”

  3. TomTX
    Austin, TX
    August 18, 2014, 11:41 am

    Unfortunately, this “energy scorecard” is full of non-quantified stuff with a tenuous connection (at best) with actual energy efficiency. What is the #1 item suggested for improving the US score? “The US Congress should pass an energy savings target” – zero actual savings, just set a target number. The #2 item? “the federal government should support training in the manufacturing and industrial sectors” Again – zero actual energy savings or efficiency improvement, just some nebulous training program. If this report were serious, it would be looking at hard, quantified numbers, such as fuel used per ton of freight per mile, or average fuel economy of cars, or energy usage per GDP produced. Instead, the quantified numbers they use are conflated with meaningless junk. China emits over 9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, the USA is barely over 5 million metric tons. Yet the USA has almost double China’s GDP. Combine the two, and the results are even more stark – China is putting out more than 3x the carbon emission per GDP when compared to the USA, yet they get put in #4 and the US is relegated to #13.