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New book "Energy Efficiency" reports big benefits from wiser energy use

Energy Efficiency Cover
August 1, 2016

Since the oil crisis of 1973, the United States has quietly but steadily learned to use energy far more efficiently virtually everywhere, according to a new book by James Sweeney, director of the Precourt Energy Efficiency Center at Stanford University.

Wiser use of energy now enhances production and consumption of our nation’s goods and services in homes, businesses, and governments.  Taken together, these many energy efficiency gains have improved our economy, reduced our environmental footprint, and sharply enhanced our national security, Energy Efficiency: Building a Clean, Secure Economy finds.

“Since the Arab oil embargo of 1973, our annual rate of energy efficiency gains has nearly quadrupled on average due to a combination of prices, policies, changed expectations, and technologies,” said Sweeney, a professor of management science and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. “If the modest, pre-1973 efficiency gains had continued to today and our economy grew the same as it has, we would be using 80 percent more energy now than we actually are and most likely at much higher prices.”

Reductions in US energy imports are due far more to greater energy efficiency than to all the increases in domestic energy production – oil, natural gas, coal, geothermal energy, nuclear power, solar power, wind power, and biofuels – combined, Sweeney finds. Similarly, reductions in energy use have done far more to restrain greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than reducing the carbon intensity of the energy used.

The fundamental importance of energy efficiency may be surprising because most changes are invisible to outsiders and sometimes even to insiders. The progress has been the result of cumulative small, broadly distributed changes that have greatly reduced the energy intensity of the US economy. The book, just published by The Hoover Institution Press, suggests that the United States can enjoy the many benefits of future efficiency gains if it maintains the interacting conditions that enabled the accomplishments of the past forty years.

“The world, let alone the United States, is in the midst of a revolution in the energy area,” said Hoover distinguished fellow George Shultz. “Jim presents a sharp picture showing that energy efficiency has been more powerful than any other development. This book is full of ideas and evidence that can help make the future better than the past.”

Energy Efficiency: Building a Clean, Secure Economy also shows that many barriers still exist to economically efficient reductions in energy use, such as market failures, structural impediments, and behavioral issues. Those, however, can be addressed by creating instruments matched to the various barriers so that the trends of decreasing energy intensity can be preserved or amplified, Sweeney finds.

James L. Sweeney is a professor of management science and engineering at Stanford University, director of the Precourt Energy Efficiency Center, and a senior fellow of the Hoover Institution, the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, the Precourt Institute for Energy, the US Association for Energy Economics, and the California Council on Science and Technology. 

About the Hoover Institution:  The Hoover Institution, Stanford University, is a public policy research center devoted to the advanced study of economics, politics, history, and political economy—both domestic and foreign—as well as international affairs. With its eminent scholars and world-renowned Library & Archives, the Hoover Institution seeks to improve the human condition by advancing ideas that promote economic opportunity and prosperity and secure and safeguard peace for America and all mankind.

CONTACT INFORMATION:  
Jenny Mayfield, Office of Public Affairs, Hoover Institution,
jennymayfield@stanford.edu 650-723-0603

Mark Golden, Precourt Energy Efficiency Center, Stanford University,
mark.golden@stanford.edu 650-724-1629

Media Contact: Mark Golden, (650) 724-1629, mark.golden@stanford.edu