States Scientists See Big Power Savings From Conservation
May 5 - Scientists at the country's national laboratories have projected
enormous energy savings if the government takes aggressive steps
to encourage energy conservation in homes, factories, offices, appliances,
cars and power plants.
completed just before the Bush administration took office, are at
odds with the administration's repeated assertions in recent weeks
that the nation needs to build a big new power plant every week
for the next 20 years to keep up with the demand for electricity,
and that big increases in production of coal and natural gas are
needed to fuel those plants.
A lengthy and
detailed report based on three years of work by five national laboratories
said that a government-led efficiency program emphasizing research
and incentives to adopt new technologies could reduce the growth
in electricity demand by 20 percent to 47 percent.
That would be
the equivalent of between 265 and 610 big 300-megawatt power plants,
a steep reduction from the 1,300 new plants that the administration
predicts will be needed. The range depends on how aggressively the
government encourages efficiency in buildings, factories and appliances,
as well as on the price of energy, which affects whether new technologies
are economically attractive.
study found that government office buildings could cut their own
use of power by one-fifth at no net cost to the taxpayers by adopting
widespread energy conservation measures, paying for the estimated
$5 billion investment with the energy savings.
But the Bush
administration, which is in the final stages of preparing a strategy
to deal with what it calls an energy crisis, has not publicized
these findings, relying instead primarily on advice from economists
at the Energy Department's Energy Information Agency, who often
take a skeptical view of projected efficiency gains and predict
a much greater need for fossil fuel supplies.
officials said that some of the national laboratories' studies were
based on theoretical assumptions that do not translate well into
looking for practical solutions here," said Jeanne Lopatto,
a spokeswoman for the Energy Department. "Whatever works, we're
interested in. But some of these ideas have been funded over many
years and they have a very small impact on energy needs."
The once obscure
debate between scientists at the national laboratories and economists
at the information agency, both sides working for the Department
of Energy, reflects a raging dispute between President Bush and
many Democrats and environmentalists. While both sides agree that
the United States faces energy problems, Mr. Bush's team has emphasized
the quest for new supplies, while his critics emphasize untapped
potential to reduce demand.
Dick Cheney, speaking publicly last week on the energy plan he is
in charge of drafting, used the information agency's projections
when he said that the nation would need at least 1,300 new power
plants by 2020. Mr. Cheney used the figure to dramatize the need
to mobilize public and private resources to close a supply gap.
Mr. Cheney has
not publicly noted that other Energy Department studies show ways
to trim that number. The conservation measures that the scientists
consider feasible would save future energy costs and prevent air
pollution from hundreds of power plants.
estimates assume widespread application of some time-tested efficiency
standards and the success of some newer inventions that scientists
love but many bottom-line economists tend to distrust as expensive
Their work was
reviewed by outside experts from industry, government and universities.
Some of the
proposed conservation steps are neither costly nor complex. Just
this week, researchers at the Energy Department's Lawrence Berkeley
National Laboratory announced that they had developed a fluorescent
table lamp that reduces the need for overhead lighting. The laboratory
says the lamp matches the combined output of a 300-watt halogen
lamp and a 150-watt bulb, but uses a quarter of the energy.
use of this lighting system in offices and homes could greatly reduce
the current power problems we have in California," said Michael
Siminovitch, a scientist at the laboratory.
have been proved in field tests. At Fort Polk, an Army base in Louisiana,
electricity use during peak hours fell by 43 percent after base
managers installed fluorescent lights, low-flow shower heads, new
attic insulation and new home heating and cooling systems.
Most of the
savings came from installing geothermal heat pumps, an efficient
home heating and cooling system that circulates fluids through underground
coils but otherwise uses conventional technologies. Hundreds of
homes on the base were equipped with the systems, generating immediate
cost savings for electricity and totally eliminating the homes'
use of natural gas for water heating. The entire installation cost
was covered by a private contractor that makes a profit by sharing
in the government's cost savings for the first 20 years.
The heat pumps,
though still something of a novelty, are completely proven and save
so much money that President Bush installed a system at his new
ranch home in Crawford, Tex., Mr. Cheney's official home, the Naval
Observatory in Washington, also uses geothermal heat pumps to cut
down on its energy bill.
A study prepared
by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory last year contended
that striving to make such savings often made sound economic sense.
The study found
that the federal government, the largest energy user in the United
States with some 500,000 buildings, could reduce its own energy
consumption by one-fifth. The investment necessary to realize those
gains would be $5.2 billion, the study said, but the energy savings
would knock nearly $1 billion annually off the government's energy
bill, an attractive rate of return.
companies have already made significant advances in what are known
as combined heat and generation plants, which could become industry
standards, energy department experts say. Chevron has estimated
that it saved $100 million a year after it withdrew a refinery from
the Texas electricity grid and relied on an on-site generator, which
allowed it to recycle waste heat from the generation process for
standards for clothes washers, water heaters and air-conditioners
adopted by the Clinton administration were projected by the Clinton
Energy Department to reduce electricity demand by the equivalent
of 170 300-megawatt power plants over 20 years if fully enforced.
fiscal 2002 budget slashed the department's spending on researching
and developing energy-efficient buildings and factories, more fuel-efficient
automobiles, new appliance standards and more efficient lighting.
Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said some of that work was better
left to the private sector.
Mr. Bush and
Mr. Cheney, both former oil industry executives, seem to have assigned
a tertiary role to efficiency improvements, behind new drilling
for oil and gas and new construction of energy infrastructure, like
pipelines and power plants. Neither the president nor the vice president
has promoted his own energy-saving home as a model.
In fact, Mr.
Cheney said last week, "Conservation may be a sign of personal
virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive