Gains Achieved by U.S. in Energy Efficiency May Be Losing Ground / 15 Years after First Embargo
Guy Darst, Ap, THE JOURNAL RECORD
Low prices account for the change, along with the fact the United States uses much more energy in comparison with other countries, analysts say.
The Energy Information Administration has revised 1987 figures to show efficiency unchanged from 1986, Jerry Lagace, an EIA economist, said.
It's the first time since 1976 that efficiency failed to improve.
Lagace noted that energy efficiency in the economy may have increased for the first quarter of the year over the 1987 quarter, but the 3.5 percent increase ``is so large that I don't believe it. This will probably be revised downward.''
Gains have been running at about 2.5 percent per year since the mid-1970s; EIA had expected future gains of about 1 percent per year. Preliminary 1987 statistics had indicated a 0.5 percent gain over 1986.
Lagace said further study is needed to pin down reasons. Growing exports of goods that take a lot of energy to produce, such as farm machinery, could be one reason. More driving is another possibility.
Efficiency has been improving throughout the industrial market economies since the 1960s, though the 1973 oil embargo greatly accelerated it. U.S. performance has been strong; some major U.S. competitors have done better.
``Energy is very cheap here,'' said Art Rosenfeld, director of the Center for Building Science at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory at Berkeley, Calif.
``When you and I were growing up, they flared natural gas, and we built a lot of uninsulated houses because it was cheaper to burn more gas than to add insulation,'' Rosenfeld said in an interview.
Attitudes change slowly, so ``we haven't paid attention to investments that take five, six or seven years to pay back, like the Germans and the Japanese do,'' Rosenfeld said.
Europe and Japan use high gasoline taxes to raise revenue and hold down consumption, while the United States throughout the 1970s kept gasoline under price controls and required minimum mileage standards for automobiles. …