The United Kingdom comes in first in a new energy-efficiency ranking of the world’s major economies, followed closely by Germany, Japan, and Italy, according to the first-ever International Energy Efficiency Scorecard published recently by the nonprofit American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). The report finds that in the last decade the United States has made “limited or little progress toward greater efficiency at the national level,” putting it in 9th place out of 12 economies around the globe.

The rankings are modeled on ACEEE’s time-tested approach to energy-efficiency ranking of U.S. states, and include 12 of the world’s largest economies: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union. These 12 economies represent over 78% of global gross domestic product; 63% of global energy consumption; and 62% of the global carbon-dioxide equivalent emissions.

On a scale of 100 possible points in 27 categories, the nations were ranked by ACEEE as follows: (1) the United Kingdom; (2) Germany; (3) Japan; (4) Italy; (5) France; (6) the European Union, Australia, and China (3-way tie); (9) the U.S.; (10) Brazil; (11) Canada; and (12) Russia.

ACEEE divided the 27 metrics across four groupings: those that track cross-cutting aspects of energy use at the national level, as well as the three sectors primarily responsible for energy consumption in an economically developed country — buildings, industry, and transportation. The top-scoring countries in each grouping are: Germany (national efforts); China (buildings); the United Kingdom (industry); and a tie among Italy, China, Germany, and the United Kingdom (transportation).

“The UK and the leading economies of Europe are now well ahead of the United States when it comes to energy efficiency,” said ACEEE Executive Director Steven Nadel. This is significant because countries that use energy more efficiently require fewer resources to achieve the same goals, thus reducing costs, preserving valuable natural resources, and creating jobs. Unfortunately, our results show that nowhere is the vast potential for improvements in energy efficiency being completely realized. While many countries achieved notable success, none received a perfect score in any category — proving that there is much that all countries can still learn from each other. For example, the United States scored relatively high in buildings, but was at the bottom of the list in transportation.”

“I welcome today’s publication of the first International Energy Efficiency Scorecard by the ACEEE,” said Greg Barker, British secretary of state for climate change. “Energy efficiency sits at the heart of our policies to encourage low-carbon growth, and I am particularly pleased that the United Kingdom is ranked first of the 12 economies considered by the study. Making our buildings and industries more energy efficient is a significant challenge, one that will take years to meet; doing so cost effectively will mean drawing on the experiences of others. This study is a fascinating collection of best practice, setting out the innovations which can accelerate economic growth, enhance energy security — and save our households and businesses money.”

“While energy efficiency has played a major role in the economies of developed nations for decades, cost-effective energy efficiency remains a massively underutilized energy resource,” said Sara Hayes, report author and ACEEE senior researcher. “Fortunately, there is a lot countries can do to strengthen their economic competitiveness through improvements in energy efficiency.”

The ACEEE ranking system looks at both “policy metrics” and “performance metrics” to measure a country’s overall energy efficiency. Examples of policy metrics include the presence of a national energy savings target, fuel economy standards for vehicles, and energy efficiency standards for appliances. The “performance metrics” measure energy use and provide quantifiable results. Examples of performance metrics include the amount of energy consumed by a country relative to its gross domestic product, average miles per gallon of on-road passenger vehicles, and energy consumed per square foot of floor space in residential buildings.

The ACEEE report raises a critical question: How can the United States compete in a global economy if it continues to waste money and energy that other industrialized nations save and can reinvest? The new report outlines a number of recommendations for the United States such as:

  • A national energy savings target: Congress should pass a national energy savings target to complement existing state policies and raise the bar for all states. Most countries analyzed in this Scorecard have such targets. In the interim, the states without mandatory targets for utility energy savings should adopt them.
  • Efficiency in manufacturing: Manufacturers should commit to continual improvement in energy efficiency by using Superior Energy Performance ISO 50001 (ISO 2011) and other voluntary platforms.
  • Financial incentives: States and the federal government should implement improved financial incentives, such as tax credits, loans, and loan-loss reserves, to spur private investment in energy efficiency.
  • Investment in research and development: Greatly increased R&D investment is needed to develop new technologies and practices that support energy efficiency across all sectors of the economy.
  • Efficient power plants: Government policies should be adopted that encourage utilities to retire old, inefficient power plants and ensure that any new power plants are highly efficient.
  • Output-based emissions standards: These standards should be employed to encourage the use of the most efficient generation technologies.
  • Efficient power distribution: Electric grid infrastructure should be modernized to reduce line losses. Utilities should deploy high efficiency distribution transformers, increased utilization of distributed energy sources, and advanced “smart grid” techniques to reduce transmission and distribution losses.
  • Building codes: All states should use the most recent and stringent building code standards.
  • Appliance standards: Federal and state governments should implement and enforce existing appliance standards, regularly update these standards, and develop standards for additional products (e.g., pumps).
  • Combined heat and power: Governments and regulators should adopt policies that allow combined heat and power (CHP) to obtain reasonable electricity buyback and backup power rates.
  • Vehicle miles traveled: The United States should reconsider the pricing of transportation, and facilitate the adoption of policies such as “pay-as-you-drive” insurance, in which the cost is determined primarily by the number of miles traveled.
  • Public transit: National funding should be increased for public transit, freight rail, and non-motorized modes of transportation.
  • Fuel economy for passenger vehicles: The federal government should adopt the proposed increases in Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, which would result in average fuel economy of 49.6 miles per gallon in 2025.
  • Fuel economy for heavy-duty vehicles: The federal government should adopt substantially higher standards for heavy-duty vehicle fuel efficiency for 2025.