A survey of 50 energy experts released on Tuesday by economists at The Brattle Group reveals that energy efficiency is likely to cause a drop of 5% to 15% in U.S. electricity consumption by the year 2020, relative to forecast trends. Electric peak demand is likely to drop by 7.5% to 15% and natural gas consumption is expected to drop by 5% to 10% compared to forecast trends.

The study, “Energy Efficiency and Demand Response in 2020—A Survey of Expert Opinion,” was co-authored by Brattle economists Ahmad Faruqui and Doug Mitarotonda in coordination with Global Energy Partners (GEP), an Enernoc company. It concludes reductions will likely be brought on by factors such as rising costs of generating and delivering power and natural gas, rapid advances in appliance and building technology, innovative rate design, and “cultural shifts in American values that encourage behavioral change.”

The group notes that while the EU is seeking to reduce energy consumption by 20% by the year 2020, the U.S. has no federal policy with similar goals. Some states like Connecticut, Maryland, and Pennsylvania have established targets, while energy efficiency improvements are a major part of California’s energy action plan.

It says, however, “it is clear that efforts to reduce growth in energy consumption are beginning to take hold,” citing a Denver Post article that listed examples of plants that are being mothballed or projects being cancelled because of energy efficiency gains.

The group asked 50 experts in the U.S. and Canada— from academics to consultants, utilities to regulators, and from consumer activists to environmentalists—about their views on what would happen in terms of energy efficiency and demand response during the next decade relative to each respondent’s view of what energy usage would have been in the absence of these new activities.

“It is important to note that we did not ask them to tell us what should happen, a normative question, or what is the economic or technical potential for energy efficiency and demand response,” the group says in its report. “Instead, we asked them to simply tell us what they thought was likely to happen, a positive question.”

Key Findings
Most experts agreed that power consumption in the U.S. would dive between 5% and 15% by 2020 compared to what it would have been without additional energy efficiency measures. The range of savings in U.S. natural gas consumption due to energy efficiency improvements is between 5% and 10%. Demand response programs are expected to lower U.S. peak demand for electricity by 7.5% to 15%, compared to what it would have been otherwise.

Among other key findings were that not all states in the U.S. would see less energy consumption as a result of improved energy efficiency measures. For example, the West North Central region of the U.S. is expected to only see electric energy savings in electricity consumption in the 1.5% to 2.5% range, while the Mountain region is expected to see savings in the 5% to 16% range. On the natural gas front, the lowest savings of under 1% are expected from the West South Central region. Much higher numbers of up to 12% are expected in the New England, Middle Atlantic, and East North Central regions. Power savings would also surge most in the residential sector compared to the industrial sector.

Prompting Energy Efficiency Improvements
The group speculated that factors that could drive improvements in energy efficiency and peak demand would be brought about by “long-standing policy drivers such as rising fuel and capital costs,” and “rapid advances in appliance and building technology, brought on partly by government mandates and partly by competitive economics.”

The survey results also confirmed that “the age of increasing energy efficiency has not yet come to an end. In fact, they herald a period of acceleration for energy efficiency,” the report says. “Furthermore, the surveyed experts anticipate that demand response will become a valuable resource, with much higher participation rates than today, to manage peak demand.”

Sources: POWERnews, The Brattle Group, The Denver Post