Energy Efficiency: A US Perspective

June 4, 2009

Richard Kidd updates Owen McQuade on the US Government’s ambitions for energy efficiency.  

Courtesy of agendaNi*  

Within the US Department of Energy, Kidd heads up the Federal Energy Management programme, which facilitates energy efficiency management investment across the federal government, the purpose of which is “to improve energy security and environmental stewardship.”  

The US federal government energy footprint is about 1.6 per cent of the total energy used in America and is roughly the same amount of energy used by Austria. “So we can make a difference,” Kidd says.  

Although there may have been the perception that the US was lukewarm about reducing greenhouse gases in recent years, Kidd points out that fairly aggressive targets were set for US federal agencies in 2007 as part of the Energy Independence and Security Act. The main targets set by this legislation include: a 30 per cent reduction in energy intensity by 2013 in all federal buildings; a 2 per cent reduction in petroleum use every year; a 16 per cent reduction in water consumption by 2015; a target of 7.5 per cent of all energy used by government from renewable sources; and other measures such as deploying more meters and training energy managers.  

Kidd arrived in Belfast after a mission to the European Commission and three other European countries, on a fact-finding regarding energy efficiency programmes.  

“I’ve been touring Europe, and you have the same challenges: Political targets and mandated performance goals and how to optimise investment to achieve these goals, in the public and private sector spaces.”  

Kidd is new to energy policy, having previously worked with the State Department, the UN and as a serving US Army officer. When asked what his first impressions of the sector are, he replies: “I think for a very long time the world has lived in an era of cheap carbon energy. Most of us have been unaware of the externalities of the cost of that carbon energy. Now that it is recognised that energy is not cheap and that there are external cost, the focus on energy management is increased. [There is] also the connection with other public goods; providing security for their people and social justice, have a role to play. These factors are now driving federal energy management.”  

In a previous role, Kidd was involved in the research for the report written by US energy expert Amory Lovins, ‘Winning the Oil End Game’. Commissioned by the Pentagon, the report focused on how to move America away from imported oil.  

Asked why the report has not has not been implemented, he replies: “I’m not impartial. It’s a great piece of work. It informs and guides me. I don’t think you should assume there is an unwillingness to implement it. It’s more dissemination of information.  

“If you look at some of the investments in the Stimulus Bill, they are in line with that [the report]. There is also a growing awareness of whole systems design, which Amory has championed for a long time and distributed power is getting ever increasing amounts of attention. I would like to use my current position to accelerate the dissemination of these ideas.”  

Combined heat and power (CHP) is an “exciting” field for Kidd. Mentioning a Department of Energy report published at the end of 2008 – he gave his last copy to someone in DFP – he comments that “you could take the current thermal loss and that would be 20 per cent of America’s energy requirements.” CHP has “huge potential”, especially in urban renewal where district heating provides assured and relatively low cost heat and electricity for developers.  

Two of his priorities are to maximize alternative funding sources – an $80 billion energy performance contract has been let to 16 firms – and a more dedicated planning process. This leads him onto an interesting observation that unlike many other types of infrastructure there is no overall investment plan for the energy sector: “You have these goals. Can you show me the money? How are you going to pay for that? There doesn’t appear to be a full and proper financial plan anywhere.”  

*This article appeared in the May issue of agendaNi and is used with the publication’s permission.