The American Physical Society, the premier organization representing U.S. physicists, has issued a public policy report recommending targets for energy efficiency in buildings and transportation. It says that the average fuel efficiency of light vehicles should reach at least 35 miles per gallon by 2020, and that all new light vehicles should achieve 50 mpg by 2030. Energy use by all U.S. buildings, instead of increasing by a projected 30 percent in the next two decades, should be held flat at current levels.
The APS panel, chaired by physics Nobelist Burton Richter of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center and David Goldston of Harvard, a former House Science Committee staff chief, justifies its ambitious objectives in terms of both energy dependence and climate risk. It points out that the United States imports twice as much oil as it did 35 years ago, at the time of the first international oil embargo. As for global warming, though the precise extent of the human contribution needs deeper understanding, â''there is virtually no disagreement among scientists that it is real and substantial.â''
The panelâ''s emphasis on buildings and transportation is broadly consistent with the findings of a presidential climate technology task force, which found two years ago that energy use and greenhouse gases can be cut fastest in those sectors. Specifically, the panel recommends that the Federal government increase research spending on next-generation building technologies from $100 million per year to $250 million, its level in 1980. New residential buildings should be zero net energy by 2020, and new commercial buildings by 2030. A more balanced Federal research portfolio is needed if we are to have the batteries that will be needed to make 300-mpg electric cars a reality and the breakthroughs that would be required to make hydrogen cars â''more than a niche product.â''
Washington should adopt policies that encourage states to require their utilities help customers conserve energy, including â''time of useâ'' electricity metering.
To guarantee adequate support for long-term energy efficiency research, the government could either create a new structure within the Department of Energy or adapt the Advanced Research Projected Agency, established last year by the American COMPETES Act. â''ARPA-E, if funded, needs to have its purposes better defined.â''