Study ranks Germany as world's most energy efficient economy

A landmark study by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) has awarded Germany the top honor, less than a week after the country’s Nationalmannschaft swept all before it on its way to World Cup soccer glory.

The ACEEE report found that Germany’s economy performed particularly well on all metrics, with strong codes on environmentally friendly buildings and a healthy appetite towards renewable energy, including solar.

The U.S. and Australia, in contrast, came in for particular scorn amid concern around the pace of environmental efforts in those countries, particularly Australia, which announced this week that it had repealed its carbon tax. Of the 16 major economies in the study, Mexico ranked last, while China was praised for its efforts at energy efficient improvement.

Germany, however, received the top score, drawing praise for its mandatory codes on residential and commercial buildings and steady progress towards reducing its energy consumption by 20% of 2008 levels by 2020.

Philipp Ackermann, the deputy chief of mission at the German embassy in the U.S., alluded to the World Cup triumph when he quipped: “We are pleased to win a second title in a week’s time!"

On a more serious note, Ackermann added that Germany is proud of its efforts to improve energy efficiency and lower its carbon footprint – all while growing its economy. "We all agree, I think – the cheapest energy in the energy you don’t have to produce in the first place. Our long term goal is to fully decouple economic growth from energy use," he said.

Italy was ranked in second place, in large part as a result of its efficiency in transportation and fulsome adoption of solar power a few years ago, while the ACEEE ranked the European Union third as a whole, followed by China and France on joint fourth, the U.K. in fifth and Japan in sixth. All of the leading countries continue to boast mature or dynamic and growing solar PV industries.

In placing fourth, China was singled out for particular praise by the authors of the ACEEE report. Although enforcement on building codes for energy efficiency could be more stringent and rigorously enforced, the Chinese use less energy per square foot than any other country, the report found.

"There is a lot more that China can do, they do waste a lot of energy as well, but they really are making quite a bit of progress," said the ACEEE’s executive director, Steven Nadel.

Even ahead of Australia’s controversial abolition of its carbon tax, the country was found to be exhibiting signs of a "clear backward trend", according to ACEEE, resulting in a tenth-placed ranking. However, Australia did receive praise for the energy efficiency built into its manufacturing and construction sectors, although in terms of efficiency in transportation, the country ranked last.

Disappointing tale for the U.S.

The U.S. ranked 13th overall, earning praise from the ACEEE for the progress the country has made in recent years. However, despite beating Russia (14th), Brazil (15th) and Mexico (16th), the U.S. still exhibits highly wasteful energy behaviors in a number of its economy sectors.

"There is really no excuse for the U.S. lagging behind other nations on energy efficiency," said Peter Welch, U.S. Congressman (Vermont). "States like Vermont have demonstrated that energy efficiency saves money, reduces environmental impact, and creates jobs. And, in an environment of gridlock, there is bipartisan common ground on this issue in Congress. I hope this acts as a wakeup call that it is time for America to step-up and lead on energy efficiency."

The report called the U.S.’s inefficiency a "tremendous waste of energy resources and money", stating the limited progress made across nearly all aspects of the scorecard, which include 31 point metrics across four groupings of buildings, industry, transportation and cross-cutting aspects of energy use at national level.

"The U.S. overall score of 42 is less than half the possible points and is 23 points off Germany," said the report. "Further, the U.S. falls behind Canada, Australia, India and South Korea. These scores suggest that this list of countries may have an economic advantage over the U.S. because using less energy to produce and transport the same economic output costs them less. Their efforts to improve efficiency likely make their economies more nimble and resilient."

Looking ahead, the ACEEE report advises that the U.S. can drastically improve its energy efficiency if it targets four key opportunities: the passing of a national energy savings target; strengthening the national model for building energy codes; supporting education and training in the industrial sectors, and prioritizing energy efficiency in transportation spending.