Germany Victory Celebration - 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil

After having just won the World Cup title in soccer in Brazil, Germany raked in another title – this time outside the soccer stadium – as the world’s most energy efficient economy. So both instances illustrate the significance of efficient play.

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) ranked in its 2014 International Energy Efficiency Scorecard the world’s 16 largest economies using 31 different indicators to assess how efficiently those economies use energy. The authors find in their study that overall – irrespective of a country’s current ranking – the glass is only half full and that “there are substantial opportunities for improvement in all the economies analyzed.” Thus, no country can just sit back and rest on its laurels because every country also has serious weaknesses. However, the authors also suggest that “the conditions required for a perfect score are currently achievable and in practice somewhere on the globe.”

While Germany ranks 1st out of 16 of the world’s biggest economies in terms of efficient use of energy followed by Italy, the EU and China, the US is far behind in 13th position. What may have contributed to the American subpar performance on many indicators is what Maria van der Hoeven, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), labeled “wasteful consumption”.

In general, countries do better in this scorecard if they domestically set measurable policy targets to save energy across their economies – e.g. fuel economy standards or the adoption of energy efficient building codes – while at the same time creating an incentive and/or subsidy structure to do so; for example, with incentives for building retrofits. Remember, energy savings at the level of each individual consumer will lead to knock-on effects along the entire value chain. Energy efficiency is thus a crucial component of any energy policy. Improved energy efficiency can help in sustaining economic growth while mitigating the burden on the environment as well as finite energy supplies.

Ian Clover, writing for PV Magazine, points out correctly that “[a]ll of the leading countries [in the ACEEE report] continue to boast mature or dynamic and growing solar PV industries” in addition to having made energy efficiency a policy priority.

Check out the ACEEE scorecard graphic below, which also offers some policy recommendations for the US in order to improve its energy efficiency:

2014 International Energy Efficiency Scorecard

Source: ACEEE