The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy's first-ever global survey showed the United States fared poorly, ranking ninth among 12 of the world's largest economies.
The council's International Energy Efficiency Scorecard, released Thursday, showed the United Kingdom in first place with a score of 67 out of 100, thanks to efficient industrial and transportation sectors. Germany came in second at 66 points for strong national leadership across its entire economy.
The next three spots were held by Japan, Italy and France. The European Union, Australia and China had a three-way tie for sixth place at 56 points, and then came a drop to the United States with 47. Brazil took tenth place with a score of 41. Canada (37) and Russia (36) rounded out the rankings.
The scores were based on countries' performance and policies in four sectors: buildings, industry, transportation and energy use at the national level. The council divided those categories into 27 metrics and awarded the highest score available for each metric to at least one country. The study's most up-to-date data comes from 2010 and doesn't reflect advances made in the past two years.
"The UK and the leading economies of Europe are now well ahead of the United States when it comes to energy efficiency," said ACEEE Executive Director Steven Nadel. "This is significant because countries that use energy more efficiently require fewer resources to achieve the same goals, thus reducing costs, preserving valuable natural resources and creating jobs."
Many of the higher-ranking countries had national energy-savings goals, mandatory energy audits in factories, frequent use of public transportation and fuel-efficient cars. The U.S. got zero points in each of those four categories. When it comes to driving, Americans traveled twice as many miles on average than drivers in nearly every country on the list.
America did score well, however, in the buildings category, thanks largely to now-expiring federal tax credits and loan programs for energy-saving retrofits, as well as investments in R&D and strong efficiency standards for homes, offices and appliances. Buildings account for 40 percent of both U.S. electricity consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
"Americans for a long time have seen their country as being really innovative and cutting-edge and globally competitive," Sara Hayes, the report's author and an ACEEE senior researcher, told InsideClimate News. "The United States has a long way to go. ... I don't think it's a given when we do this report again that we will have caught up."
See the entire ACEEE report.