The ACEEE's second edition of its "International Energy Efficiency Scorecard" ranks the United States 13 out of 16 leading world economies analyzed for policies and performance on energy efficiency. The 16 economies cover more than 81 percent of global gross domestic product and 71 percent of global energy consumption.
For the report, researchers analyzed 31 different data points for each country across top energy-consumption sectors, including buildings, industry and transportation. The study also looked at metrics "that cut across these sectors (such as the efficiency of electricity generation) and that indicate a national commitment to energy efficiency," the study reads. Point values were assigned to each of the 31 data points and used to score and rank the 16 economies.
The highest overall energy efficiency score went to Germany, which earned 65 out of 100 possible points. Italy came in second and the European Union as a whole ranked third. China and France tied for fourth place.
The United States also trailed behind Japan, the United Kingdom, Spain, Canada, Australia, India and South Korea. Russia came in 14th and Brazil earned 15th place. The worst energy efficiency ranking went to Mexico.
The average score among the 16 economies was just 50 out of 100 points, the study found.
"In particular, one of our key findings is that all countries can improve," ACEEE Executive Director Steven Nadel said on a conference call with reporters Thursday. "Even the number one country missed getting one-third of the total available points, indicating lots of opportunities everywhere. I'd also note that as an American citizen, the U.S. in particular has great room to improve. There's a lot we can learn from the other countries, as well as other things that we know we can do."
China outranking the United States in energy efficiency may be confusing to some, given the country's air pollution problem. But Nadel pointed out that "pollution and energy are related, but they're not the same thing."
"While China has more efficient cars, for example, the U.S.' cars are much cleaner," he explained. "Also, China uses far more of its energy from coal. Coal tends, on average, to be dirtier, so that also explains it. Energy efficiency may be helping them a little on the pollution front but (without) cleaning up their power plants and the cars a lot more, their air is not going to improve."
Meanwhile, ACEEE research analyst Rachel Young said the study revealed some notable trends.
"Many countries have not moved much to improve their energy efficiency in recent years, and some actually fell backward," she said. "While there are some areas in which countries have made progress, overall, countries are failing to adopt best practices. And if they are improving, they are doing so in small increments."
Over the past decade, the United States has taken some steps to improve energy efficiency, "particularly in areas such as building codes, appliance standards, voluntary partnerships between government and industry, and, recently, fuel economy standards for passenger vehicles and heavy-duty trucks," the study reads. But Young said the "overall story is disappointing."
"The United States, long considered an innovative and competitive world leader, has progressed slowly and has made limited improvement since our last International Scorecard" in 2012, she said. "In contrast, Germany, Canada and China are pulling ahead ... The winning countries are able to produce the same amount of goods and services with less energy, and their efforts towards efficiency likely make their economies more nimble and resilient. This raises a critical question: looking forward, how can the United States compete in a global economy if it continues to waste money and energy that other nations save and can reinvest?"
A few of the metrics analyzed in the report did account for state-level efforts on energy efficiency in the United States, such as residential and commercial building codes being implemented by states, Young said. About half of the scores, Nadel said, are also based on actual performance, such as energy use per square foot. State policies do impact those scores, he noted.
"We did capture (state efforts) to a significant degree," Nadel said. "You can debate whether there's a little bit more, but overall a lot of room for improvement in the U.S."
The report highlights four key ways the United States could boost its energy efficiency. The U.S. congress, the study reads, should pass a national energy savings target and prioritize energy efficiency in transportation spending. Meanwhile, the federal government, the report says, should support energy efficiency education and training in the manufacturing and industrial sectors as well as strength national building codes.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Peter Welch of Vermont is the main sponsor of legislation, H.R. 5072, the American Renewable Energy and Efficiency Act, which would "push for a unified effort for efficiency" and "create a bunch more investment in energy efficiency," the congressman said.
Welch said negotiations in Congress on energy efficiency legislation is "ongoing."
In May, the Senate failed to advance a bipartisan energy efficiency bill, S. 2622, the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act, put forward by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio).
Welch said he believes the Shaheen-Portman bill "was a casualty to the election-year politics."
"But we're getting close to the election," he said. "We'll be back next year, and the foundation will have been laid."
Nadel added the House has actually moved "a variety of bipartisan energy efficiency bills."
"They've been steadily moving on certain items," he said. "Unfortunately, in the Senate we've kind of gotten into holding hostage, if you will. We don't want to vote on efficiency unless we can include ... a bunch of other things. I'm hearing ... there's a possibility of some action in the lame-duck [session], but if not, as Representative Welch says, [we'll] definitely pick it up next year."
ACEEE officials were asked whether the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) proposed carbon pollution regulations for existing U.S. power plants would be a help to the country's score on the next International Energy Efficiency Scorecard to be issued in 2016.
"If states implement energy efficiency to what we believe to be the fullest potential under the rule, [that] would significantly help improve the United State's score in the International Scorecard, although we can't know for sure what will happen in the future," Young said.
In addition to the EPA's proposed regulations for existing power plants, Nadel noted that the agency and the U.S. Department of Transportation are working on new fuel-economy standards for big trucks "that could also help improve the U.S. score."