The US Department of Energy says energy efficiency savings could enable the US to comply with the goals of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change without harming the domestic economy.
The protocol proposed that the US reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 7% below 1990 levels by 2010. The US Senate has not confirmed that treaty.
The DOE report was released just ahead of the latest meeting of the Conference of the Parties on Climate Change in The Hague, which was still under way at presstime last week (see Editorial, p. 17, and Watching the World, p. 25).
The DOE report, 2 years in the making, said the US would have to take additional steps such as international carbon dioxide emissions credits trading, reductions in other greenhouse gases, and stronger domestic energy policies in order to meet the Kyoto Protocol targets.
It said, "Successful implementation of these technologies and policies could reduce greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, oil dependence, and economic inefficiencies." It also said the overall economic benefits of the policies and technologies "are comparable to their overall costs" and would create energy savings throughout the economy.
The study said that emissions of nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide could be halved by 2020 with better oil production technology.
Participating in the study were researchers from DOE's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Argonne National Laboratory, and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
The study assessed hundreds of technologies and 50 policies that could be used to meet emissions-related challenges facing the US. The study focused on climate change, air pollution, oil security, and inefficiencies of energy producers and end users.
The study contends that despite ongoing improvements in air quality, air pollution from burning hydrocarbons continues to cause high levels of respiratory illnesses, acid rain, and photochemical smog. Power outages and disruptions, as well as price hikes, "could dampen US productivity."
A scenario-based approach was used in the report to examine alternative public policies that address these problems. The most advanced scenario-one that imagined US consumers to be more willing to invest in solutions for energy problems-showed that, by the year 2010, the US could reduce its CO2 emissions levels 75% of the way back to 1990 levels.
"While previous studies have established the technical potential for significantly cutting greenhouse gases and enhancing energy security, this study shows the ability of policies to help realize this potential," said Marilyn Brown, deputy director of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory's energy efficiency and renewable energy program. Natural gas was forecast to become the dominant fuel for generating electricity. Brown said the researchers found that more-efficient industrial and building technologies could actually reduce the amount of gas used.
She said energy inefficiencies in power generation could be corrected by using combined-cycle technology to harness waste heat to operate power generators or other energy-intensive plants. This technology could increase the average power plant efficiency rate from its current level of 34%, ultimately doubling the energy content of natural gas used as fuel.
The study said other policies needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions include increased research and development; voluntary agreements to promote energy efficiency in vehicles, buildings, and industrial processes; enhanced appliance efficiency standards; a domestic carbon cap and trading system; and electric industry restructuring. It said a domestic carbon cap and trading system could prove to be more efficient-while placing an economic incentive on carbon reduction-than a tax on polluters.