The titles of the studies sound almost evanelical: "The Good News about Energy." "The Easy Path Energy Plan," "Energy Future." That a rash of researchers is promoting "unique" plans to save energy after six years of on-and-off national shortages is not surprising. What is surprising is they are generally saying the same thing.
All claim the most promising untapped source of energy is the 30 to 50 percent of national use they estimate is wasted every year by inefficient cars, buildings and appliances.
Conservation, they say, could cut 2.5 million barrels daily from the 8 million barrels of oil the nation imports. The synfuels program, by contrast, promises about 200,000 barrels a day. And conservation is much cheaper.
Some studies estimate the recovery cost of the "conservation barrel" at as little as one-ninth the price of a "synfuel barrel, which could run as high as $45.
Individual consumers can save money through a variety of simple energy-saving measures costing little or nothing to implement. The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates "the potential may exist to economically reduce heating bills by 50 percent or more in the typical household" with little or no change in comfort.
"All of Carter's measures tend to mean higher prices for oil, but most conservation strategies result in lower overall costs," according to UCS researcher Vince Taylor.
Experts also foresee vast national savings on larger conservation porjects, though at this point many of these would not pay for themselves in the current economic environment. Proponents are calling on federal government to supply the missing incentives.
"The administration should reverse their goals for conservation and synfuels - then they'd have a reasonable chance of achieving them. They have no chance now," commented Daniel Vergin, co-author of a recent Harvard study on energy.
A report by the Council on Environmental Quality this year said federal emphasis on "energy productivity" would lead to "more efficient and durable products and buildings, automobiles with higher fuel economy...and new, more efficient industrial processes." These advances could be attained with a 30 to 40 percent cut-back on energy consumption, the report added.
Some headway has been made along these lines since the 1973 Arab oil embargo shocked Americans into watching their energy consumption more carefully. Since about that time, the amount of energy consumed per unit output has been falling at nearly 1.4 percent each year. But decades of cheap, abundant fuel have made energy-wasting a national pastime. West Germany, with a standard of living similar to that of the United States, uses only half as much energy per person, according to the Department of Energy.
Ingrained attitudes, law and policy reinforce the pattern of waste. Appraisers and contractors are reluctant to see the enhanced value of homes with energy-saving additions. Landlords renting out houses may include the utility bills in the rent, upping energy use by residents as much as 25 percent. City dwellers throw away reusable bottles for lack of any reason to return them.
Laws that impose utility-type regulations on industries that could "co-generate" electricity as a by-product are preventing changes that might save millions of barrels of oil each day, according to DOE spokesman J. Michael Power.
Today only about 4 percent of U.S. industries use waste steam to generate power. About 56 percent did in the 1930s, said Jan Acton, a researcher at the think-tank Rand Corp... But in later years energy utilities "very deliberately gave volume discounts" making it cheaper for industries not to worry about such efficiencies, he added.
Now most industry is reluctant to move into cogeneration because plants selling extra power from the process would be reclassified as "utilities," and as such invite harsher regulatory treatment, according to Power. The problem is being reviewed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, he said, but in the meantime is costing about 4 million barrels of oil-equivalent energy each day. "Until industry knows what government policy is going to be, any investment is going to risky," Power remarked.
DOE, he added, is "trying to get away from regulating industry," choosing instead to explore cost sharing for conservation investments and joint research.
For years, government energy researchers have studied potential fuel-saving techniques; their work gets as detailed as quantifying the change in temperature achieved by wearing or not wearing a hat. (.2 degrees F). But most experts now enthusiastically point to larger scale measures for conservation.
A recent Princeton University study calls for spending an average of $1,500 per house to diminish the 50 percent portion of national heating energy it estimates is wasted each year. The study recommends that the government train a squad of "house doctors" to examine homes for inefficient insulation and fuel use.
A CEQ report in March called for a stepped-up program of standards for auto, building and appliance efficiency, along with federal encouragement for firms exploring cogeneration and utilities opting for time-of-day pricing.
A CBS-New York Times poll the day after President Carter's speech last month found more than 90 percent surveyed were prepared to make sacrifices for conservation, such as driving slower or less often and adjusting their thermostats.
But few Americans are aware of how little sacrifice simple conservation measures demand, according to CEQ's John Davidson.
"we're trying to get away from the ideal of conservation as people sweating in a building," he said.
Most energy specialists have their own list of tips for painless conservation in the home or car. The following ideas are culled from lists circulating at the Environmental Protection Agency, DOE, CEQ and Rand.
Home. About 20 percent of total national energy demand goes to heating and operating appliances in residential buildings. Some of this demand could be cut by: keeping refrigerator coils clean (increasing efficiency up to 10 percent); turning off water heaters while away (reducing that annual drain by about .1 percent for each day); caulking and weatherstripping ceilings and walls; eliminating unnecessary hot water laundry rinses; replacing gas pilot lights with electrical ignitors, and turning off yard lamps.
Cars. Transportation takes about a quarter of energy use. Some simple measures can reduce the bite of that portion taken by cars.
Radial tires may increase efficiency by 6 to 7 percent; standard instead of automatic transmissions save 5 to 6 percent, and turning off air conditioners may save up to 20 percent.
Poorly tuned engines and under-inflated tires can impose a 4 to 6 percent penalty on fuel usage; properly inflated tires alone may save 2 percent of consumption. Yergin estimated that the savings attainable by keeping the national auto fleet properly maintained could "perhaps be equivalent to half the oil flowing from Alaska."
However, Yergin noted the increasing trend toward self-service stations will probably lead to worse, not better maintenance.
Conservation would be easy and pleasant if all of the country had California's climate. If so, the success of Davis, Calif., would be a logical national objective.
City officials in that college town recently claimed to have cut consumption of natural gas by 37 percent and electricity by 18 percent since 1973. They say they've done it by taking advantage of the temperate-to-hot, dry climate. The city government said bicycles are used for about 25 percent of all local trips. Officials encourage new houses to be well-insulated, and old ones to be retrofitted. And they require new buildings to be constructed so that their largest windows absorb the winter sun.
Concentric instead of "leapfron" development keeps driving distances down, and a new city ordinance allows business and professional people to work in their homes, eliminating some commuting altogether.