The IEA has announced current numbers for carbon emissions and energy efficiency. These emphasize the importance of energy efficiency. This is from this report. The reports indicate the improvements comparing 2011 with 2010. The US is down 200 million tons (3.8%), Europe is down 50 million tons (1.4%), but total world is up 1.4% to a total 31.6 billion tons. A further analysis shows that energy efficiency efforts are much more cost effective than alternative energy projects.
The report includes the annual spending on energy efficiency:
- About $200 billion world wide.
- about $20 billion in the US.
I always evaluate the sources and accuracy for statistics. Lots of published statistics are based on very poor data and flimsy analysis.
The carbon emissions for US and Europe are fairly accurate. They are based upon fuel production, sale, and use data. This will miss some sources. There will be some inaccuracies. But these are unlikely to change dramatically year to year, so the 3.8 and 1.4 figures are accurate. The worldwide number is much less likely to be accurate, even year to year, due to data gathering issues.
The efficiency numbers are highly dubious. The underlying data gathering is highly subjective and difficult to measure. When someone buys a CFL, how much of that spending is towards energy efficiency? When someone buys a more efficient refrigerator how much is towards energy efficiency? When an office building is renovated, how much is towards energy efficiency?
The numbers themselves look wrong. Johnson Controls' building efficiency division reports annual revenues of 14 billion worldwide. It's not credible that one building HVAC vendor is 8% of world spending all on its own.
It appears that the efficiency numbers are based primarily on reports by government programs about spending that is related to that government program. This is consistent with public statements by the Kyoto statistics team that they do not include any efficiency spending that is motivated by profit or cost saving. Kyoto reports are purely for government and regulation driven activities.
The 3.4% annual reduction in US carbon emissions is primarily the result of cost saving efforts. The largest single one is the switch from coal and oil to natural gas. This changes much more than the C:H ratio in the fuels. The mid-west power companies closed their old least efficient coal fired generators and replaced them with new very high efficiency combined cycle turbines. The heat to electricity efficiency improved from about 30% to about 60%.
There are many other sources of improvement. The switch to efficient light bulbs is nearing completion. Over 80% of lighting power consumption is now from flourescent or LED lights. The ongoing improvements are primarily from better lighting design and controls, like occupancy sensors and task oriented lighting levels. Freight traffic continues to shift from truck to rail at 1-2% annually. Warehousing, shipping, and logistics strategies take time but provide a significant improvement.
Compare this with renewables, where the US spent $52 billion in 2011 to increase the percentage of non-hydro renewable electricity by 0.3%. That contributes about 0.2% of the 3.8% decrease in carbon. The lifespan of efficiency improvements is similar to the lifespan of wind power and solar cells. So in terms of cost effectiveness, US efficiency projects provide 1.7% reduction per $10 billion, and US alternative energy projects provide 0.04% reduction per $10 billion.
If the efficiency investment numbers were believable, this would be evidence that alternative energy efforts are profoundly wasteful to a degree that is harmful to the world climate. But, the numbers lack credibility.
The claims by the various energy efficiency vendors and sponsors is that energy efficiency investments have a typical ROI of 25-100%. The alternative energy investments have typical ROI of 3-5%. (This ROI uses actual costs, not cost minus subsidy.) If you assume that energy efficiency provides ten times more carbon reduction per dollar, the reduction in carbon utilization implies an investment of $100 billion during 2011. That's a lot more believable than the IEA estimate of $20 billion.
Still, this does indicate that the push for alternative energy sources is a diversion. There is a lot that can be done to improve energy efficiency, and those improvements will have a substantially greater benefit to both the economy and the climate.