When it comes to energy, governments worldwide try to adapt to a constantly evolving geopolitical context. In the United States there has been a lack of policy renewal, although energy issues have been extensively discussed among civil society. Except for the issue of shale gas, the last presidential debates have largely ignored climate and energy concerns. Notwithstanding promises made during his 2008 campaign, President Obama’s pragmatic approach has not ushered in a genuine shift in the American way of life and energy consumption patterns. Will it take place in the course of his second term?
Energy efficiency, a growing concern
What kind of initiatives has the American government taken – and with what success – to reduce CO2 emissions and cut energy bills? A number of measures have already been implemented, such as the Better Building Initiative and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. However, it will take some time until such thermal energy efficiency programmes actually curb household energy consumption, as their goals are modest: 20% more energy efficiency respectively for commercial buildings and housing by 2020
The goal stated in the President’s State of the Union Address on February 12th 2013 is more ambitious: halving energy spending by businesses and households in the next twenty years. Nonetheless, doubts remain as to where funding for this policy would come from; in a report on North America issued in November 2011, the French consultancy Cythelia had already wondered – about the HomeStar programme – whether there would be sufficient funding to fulfil such pledges.
From electrical efficiency to energy efficiency
Although thermal energy efficiency does seem to be part of the current administration’s planned efforts, the President didn’t mention any measures regarding other energy efficiency solutions, such as those exposed in a 2009 report by McKinsey entitled Unlocking energy efficiency in the US economy: widespread and persistent obstacles, namely structural, behavioural and availability barriers, can only be removed through an integrated set of solutions so as to increase energy efficiency.
Since then, players in the energy efficiency sector, such as the Electrical Power Research Institute (EPRI), have been putting a strong emphasis on the need for developing new technologies and efficient electrical components in order to curb energy spending. In 2013 the EPRI issued a business case, largely based on previous research conducted in 2011, which assesses and quantifies the costs and benefits derived from the use of smart grids. It will provide regulatory commissions with the kind of information they are likely to require in order to approve the investments for cost recovery through regulated rates. It remains to be seen whether such assessments will be enough of an incentive for Mr Obama to explore further energy efficiency alternatives.
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