It's going to take a concerted effort to make a big dent in the oil use in the U.S. Everyone's pretty much in agreement about that. But how big and how do we get there? The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has an idea on how to make the dent as big as half of all the oil we use. It'll take a while, but it's a target to shoot for.

Called "Half The Oil: A realistic plan to cut the United States' projected oil use in half over 20 years" (PDF), the UCS says there is a way to save a total of nearly eight million barrels per day by 2035 using efficiency strategies and another four million through innovation. In this situation, efficiency means things like doubling cars' fuel economy (saving four million barrels a day) and retrofitting buildings to make them more efficient (2 mbd). Innovation means getting serious about "the full potential of electric vehicles" (1.5 mbd) and making better biofuels (1.5 mbd). You can see a breakdown of these numbers below, even if the plan doesn't offer a lot of really specific projections for how to achieve the targets it calls for.

Oil Savings Strategies Oil Savings
(millions of barrels per day) in 2035*

Double the fuel efficiency of new cars and light trucks by 2025.

4 mbd
Double the fuel efficiency of most commercial vehicles (delivery trucks, buses, and big rigs) by 2030 1 mbd
Make planes, trains, and ships more fuel-efficient. 0.5 mbd
Retrofit buildings to use less energy, make boilers more efficient, and adopt substitutes for oil to heat our homes and manufacture goods. 2 mbd

Oil Savings Strategies Oil Savings
(millions of barrels per day) in 2035*
Unleash the full potential of electric vehicles so that more than 40 percent of new vehicles sold by 2035 run on electricity instead of oil. 1.5 mbd
Produce 40 billion gallons of better biofuels from non-food sources like perennial grasses and waste products. 1.5 mbd
Expand transportation options. 1.5 mbd


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 41 Comments
      SNP
      • 2 Years Ago
      LMAO - "...efficiency means things like doubling cars' fuel economy..." Why stop there? Why not quadruple cars' fuel economy? Then we can cut out 75% of oil consumption. If we demanded everyone buy teslas, then we wouldnt need oil at all! And the economies of scale would make each tesla cost like 10k because 15million units at that price sounds economical!
      Greg
      • 2 Years Ago
      Most of these aren't feasible. But the single best way to reduce oil consumption is to drive less. If you live half the distance to work, the oil you use will drop precipitously--no new technology, costs, innovation, or anything else. Plus, not only does it save gas, it saves money (less gas to buy, cars suffer less wear-and-tear), saves time, & reduces traffic. Encourage cities to promote development and zoning that aligns work and housing instead of concentrating employment in central business districts.
        fred schumacher
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Greg
        It's much easier to change one's driving than to change one's housing situation. In most metro areas these days jobs are isotropic and scattered all over the region, not concentrated in a downtown as was the case three generations ago. Making cities more dense in order to reduce travel distance is much more expensive than increasing transportation efficiency.
          Ernie Dunbar
          • 2 Years Ago
          @fred schumacher
          You make it sound like it's outright impossible. When you set out to design your life around a lack of car ownership, as opposed to designing your life around car ownership, you'd be surprised how little you need a car in the first place. It's as easy as that. But hey, what do I know? 6 years ago I bought a house 4 blocks from work, transit, and shopping.
          Vlad
          • 2 Years Ago
          @fred schumacher
          It may be expensive, but it's also much easier to get private capital to pitch in. Whenever metro goes, and zoning allows, high-rise buildings just start to pop up. And that makes vibrant, livable, upscale communities young professionals just love to settle in.
      • 2 Years Ago
      Sadly this is all moot if the econo cars don't become affordable and more attractive. A car is still an extension of one's personality for a large majority of people. That is supported by the fact that there are numerous models by many manufacturers. But, I have noticed that the cheaper the car the less attractive it is. Conversely, the more expensive the car and attractive the car, the more expensive it is. I argue that it costs the same to engineer an attractive car as it does a non attractive car. It's comes down to profits.
        nbsr
        • 2 Years Ago
        We already have some highly desirable electric cars on the market (Tesla, Fisker) - in relative terms there are more such EV cars than there are performance gas cars. That's good, because it gives early adopters additional value for their money, and bootstraps the whole EV market and makes it more attractive. Then, we have some practical mass-produced electric cars (Nissan, Mitsubishi, Renault, GM). These cars are not meant to be cool, yet they are - *because* they are electric. When you buy such a car you can expect the same love-hate reactions as if you bough Porsche. Attractiveness is not an issue. Affordability is. But that's a technical/financial problem to solve. It just needs some time. In a long term, electric cars will be cheaper than gas cars, there is simply nothing in the car that would justify higher prices (and there are quite a few expensive components missing).
        Spec
        • 2 Years Ago
        I think you are just attracted to expensive cars. I can think of many lower cost cars that are more attractive than higher priced cars. Aesthetics are subjective, so it is a difficult area to deal with.
      goodoldgorr
      • 2 Years Ago
      Ridiculous claims done by folks that have a job paid by big oil, LOL. If cars double the efficiency then consumers will buy bigger cars and the oil consumption will remain the same. Anyone interrested in buying a hummer that do 22 mpg instead of 11 mpg. If they were true then actually everyone will buy a geo metro that do 45 mpg and in a couple or years it will do 90 mpg so oil consumption will shrink 50% but actually many buy a f-150 that do 12 mpg so when it will do 24 mpg they will buy a motorcycle for weekends, a small personnal helicopter, a jet power watercraft, a ticket on a boeing 747 to visit tokio and hong kong and hawaii, tickets on metropolitan helicopters to go to work without traffic hassles, etc.
        brotherkenny4
        • 2 Years Ago
        @goodoldgorr
        GOG is correct. People are not bright enough to stop being frivolous. They are all dumb manipulated followers of whatever moronic thing is on TV. Well, at least most. So no matter what you do, they will act against their best interests.
        brotherkenny4
        • 2 Years Ago
        @goodoldgorr
        I should mention, that some people are not so illogical, but they are the minority and are stuck with whatever all the dummies will accept as real.
        Cheetahjab
        • 2 Years Ago
        @goodoldgorr
        eating old lead based paint as a kid I see
        goodoldgorr
        • 2 Years Ago
        @goodoldgorr
        These paid crooked always brainwash peoples with scientific publicity, ads and studies about all the pollution they will erase, how mpg will climb and how cars will last longer, how much we much invest in clean that and this, etc, etc. What they are really interrested is keeping the problem alive and well so they can have a job that is collecting your money while they scientifically keep the problem alive doing nothing and finding nothing and ask for more money to do nothing endlessly while collecting the money for a living. If they find something and apply this, then it's the end of their jobs and no more money will be given to them so they are not interrested whatsoever in petrol sales declining. If petrol use is climbing then they will collect more money as a gift given to them. They know how to keep petrol sales at the maximum and are applying this in reality and do just false pr while doing so. They work for obama, bush, harper from canada, jean charest from quebec, desmarais from power corporation, exxon mobil, shell, chevron, etc. Their findings were known from the start, it was the contract given to them. They hate to the utmost hydrogen because it change something. They say like chris m that it is hard to compress, that a tank cost 100 000$, that the car cost 1 000 000$, that it is not an energy source and a poor energy carrier, that it need costly platinum, that battery are 80% efficient, that hydrogen is 20% efficient, that hydrogen is dangeurous, that they need studies about hydrogen infrastructure and they also say that their mother was authoritative when they were young and that their father was worst.
        Spec
        • 2 Years Ago
        @goodoldgorr
        Yeah, Gorr has a good point here. Jevon's paradox is real. However, it wouldn't work that way if prices keep going up. Then people will buy more efficient vehicles just to stay in place. This could happen by oil prices just going up naturally due to oil depletion and more consumption by China. However, we could also help it along by setting up a rising gasoline tax. But that is not likely given U.S. politics.
          Ernie Dunbar
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Spec
          skierpage: Yes, I'm sure that buying a 60" flat screen, or a new barbecue, or a boat, or a new snowmobile or quad, or any number of conspicuous consumables would reduce consumption of anything. Take it from my financial advisor who works with regular Joe consumers. Most people spend their extra money on crap, even when the alternative means something *directly* benefiting them, like not living out their retirement on KD and beans.
          skierpage
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Spec
          @Ernie Dunbar, You make my point, please think harder! Buying and using a 60" flat screen or barbecue with money saved from burning less gas doesn't consume as many resources as you saved. A boat or snowmobile is another matter.
          skierpage
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Spec
          Jevon's paradox is something people like to trot out without thinking hard about it. It applied to industries seeking economic advantage, not consumers. If you buy a more fuel-efficient car to be more fuel-efficient, you don't spend the money saved on more fuel! You're more likely to spend it on more energy efficiency. There will be *some* mindless consumers whose response to a 50% efficiency improvement will be to use 2x the energy in longer drives in a bigger car, which is another reason to support a gas tax or carbon tax. But most consumers won't do this, they'll spend the money on other things, things which we hope are also improving efficiency.
      2 Wheeled Menace
      • 2 Years Ago
      I hate being a broken record but i cut my personal oil consumption down 90% by switching to an electric bike. There are plenty of options that don't involve having 4 wheels.
        2 Wheeled Menace
        • 2 Years Ago
        @2 Wheeled Menace
        To be honest, i drive when it's raining, but when it's snowing in the winter i just bundle up and continue riding the eBike. The only reason is that i haven't got a waterproof setup just yet, and haven't solved the 'rain in your face' problem yet either.
          Ernie Dunbar
          • 2 Years Ago
          @2 Wheeled Menace
          Let's put it this way. Driving is insanely luxurious. You can cruise around at 40mph without any effort on your part, in a box that's covered and climate-controlled. Yet this insane luxury is somehow referred to as "necessary", and anything else is somehow referred to as "impractical". From any other perspective, this sounds exactly like the whinging of bank executives who "couldn't *possibly* live on anything less than $12 million a year." Somehow I, too survive winter as well.
          Marco Polo
          • 2 Years Ago
          @2 Wheeled Menace
          2WM, Good for you ! But just quoting your own experience isn't very useful. The majority of people are unable to ride bicycles as a viable transport option. Small minorities of enthusiasts always loudly advocate like born-again evangelists, without any regard to gap between ideology and reality. But, if it suits you, great !
        Actionable Mango
        • 2 Years Ago
        @2 Wheeled Menace
        My personal sacrifice was to take a job that was 1.5 miles from my house that paid $10k less per year. That was a big hit to my finances. I bet I use less gas in my SUV than a Prius with a typical commute distance, but the Prius driver is considered a hero and I'm hated for driving a "Canyonero".
        Spec
        • 2 Years Ago
        @2 Wheeled Menace
        What do you do in the Winter and in the rain?
      Ernie Dunbar
      • 2 Years Ago
      Efficiency will get you nowhere. If anything, it will just ensure that you get more out of what you spend, and when businesses get more out of what they spend, that increases their profits and allows them to grow, consuming more of the raw resources that power those businesses. They will, in fact, spend more on those raw resources because they know they will get more profit from them. Now, if you were to *switch* from using oil to something else, maybe even something cheaper, *then* businesses will spend more on *that* resource to exploit it for profit. Which will actually have the end result of reducing demand for oil as you intend.
      Spec
      • 2 Years Ago
      The article is headed in the right direction but a lot of it is much easier said than done. For example, it suggests that we "Double the fuel efficiency of most commercial vehicles (delivery trucks, buses, and big rigs) by 2030". Uh OK . . . how do we do that? If we knew how to do that easily, we would have already done so. Saving oil is profitable for shipping companies and they try to do it. It just isn't easy.
      UH2L
      • 2 Years Ago
      Researchers conveniently ignore that reducing meat consumption would significantly reduce our usage of oil. It's amazing how that gets pushed aside.
        SNP
        • 2 Years Ago
        @UH2L
        Significant enough to matter? Most of our oil usage is in transportation of stuff and people. Meat is a tiny fraction of that. Food transportation in general is a tiny fraction.
      nbsr
      • 2 Years Ago
      Reducing oil consumption rate is good but not enough. What ultimately matters is how much oil we leave in the ground intact, which really means zero or negligible consumption at some point. It doesn't matter if we burn all extractable oil in 50 or 100 years. To do that, we would have to get better (not just cleaner, also cheaper and more practical) alternatives to gas. They, of course, won't magically appear out of nowhere - we need research and market driving it forward. Here is where oil reduction incentives might come in help but don't mistake them with the goal - zero gas use.
      • 2 Years Ago
      "Retrofit buildings to use less energy, make boilers more efficient, and adopt substitutes for oil to heat our homes and manufacture goods." Yes, yes, and hell yes! Insulating homes is relatively cheap compared to even one winter's heating oil expense. President Carter had all this enacted into law in 1979... then the oil sucker got into office and erased or gutted every program. We could have been imported-oil-free by the year 2000.
        BipDBo
        • 2 Years Ago
        Changing an older boiler to a new high efficiency model can bring you from 80% efficiency to around 95%, so your saving about 16% there. Coming from an HVAC engineer, adding insulation is usually much more problematic, expensive and has diminishing returns. You can add fiberglass batt or cellulose insulation to your attic, which is very cheap, really the only insulation retrofit justified by cost. Adding attic insulation will have a dimishing impact however because most of your heat escape through your walls and windows, where it is much more difficult to add insulation. For commercial buildings with flat roofs, polyisosanurate foam insulation gets very expensive. The thing about adding insulation is that every time you double the thickness of your insulation, you cut your heat transfer in half. Therfore, in going from 6" to 12", your energy savings is only half that of going from 3" to 6", but your cost is double. The best method is to give a building a continuos, unbroken layer of insulation, of the same r-value covering all surfaces, walls roof, elevated floor. The roof needs a slightly higher insulation just because of more solar load in the summer. Limiting window area helps greatly because single pane windows are usually R-1.1 and double pane max out at about R-3. Another issue is that for non-residential buildings, the heat "envelope load" ie, the amount of energy needed to heat the building due to conduction to the outside through walls, roofs and windows can be very small compared to other heat loads. Industry has process loads. Commercial and industrial buildings have requirements for fresh air to be brought in. There is a lot of energy needed to heat outside air. Most of my work is done in the South mostly in Florida. We do alost exclusively commercial (retail, restuarants, offices, but sometime do residences and industrial such as large bakeries. We run computer simulations on our buildings for energy code compliance and sometime LEED certification. We find that at least in the south, the yearly energy usage to heat the building is a very small, practically insignificant portion of the total energy use of the building. We also find that adding insulation above code requirements, more often than not, has a very small impact. Double pane glass in Florida is usually not worth the money. It is usaully better to spend money on low-e coatings. We have found, numerous times, however, that, by far the most impactful way to minimize energy use on a commercial building is to use high efficiency lighting. Flourescent lighting has become much more efficient. LED lighting continues to become bteer, chaeper and more efficient. We have been involved with projects that have played nearly every trick in the book, including solar panels and natural gas fuel cells. All of those efforts are drawfed in energy savings by that of high efficiency (particularly LED) lighting. It's the low hanging fruit.
          PR
          • 2 Years Ago
          @BipDBo
          BipDBo -- Excellent post! Thank you very much. "We run computer simulations on our buildings for energy code compliance and sometime LEED certification. We find that at least in the south, the yearly energy usage to heat the building is a very small, practically insignificant portion of the total energy use of the building. We also find that adding insulation above code requirements, more often than not, has a very small impact. " It is good to hear that the code requirements were smartly written. From your analysis, the codes are set exactly at the right place, where any addition to the codes would be unjustified. Can you do computer simulations for areas outside of Florida and the South? It would be very interesting to see if double pane glass makes much more sense in places where there are very cold and windy winters. Here in Colorado, replacing old aluminum-framed single or double pane windows is very popular.
          Matt Fulkerson
          • 2 Years Ago
          @BipDBo
          Great to read your post. The importance of economical steps towards energy efficiency cannot be overstated. First, if you don't go for the low hanging fruit first, you are not optimizing your efficiency gains for the dollars you are spending. Second, if it is not economical, there is zero chance that a majority will adopt a technology or practice. Although, being economical is no guarantee, either. Third, many technologies (e.g. solar PV) only make financial sense for the individual when large taxpayer subsidies are available. A few years back we moved to a house heated with oil. Immediately, we replaced the boiler for reasons of reliability and efficiency, which was more than 50 years old. But it was clear a moderate jump in efficiency was not going to cut it when oil went north of $4 per gallon. So then we installed pellet stoves, a Geyser heat pump for water heating, and finally after sweating out a couple of brutal summers, a heat pump. Now we can run the heat pump in moderate winter weather, such as during the day when the temperatures are typically upper 30s or higher, and then kick on the stoves when it gets colder. If we had to do it all over again, we could have installed geothermal for only a little more (although taxpayers would have born additional costs). Plus we would not have to maintain 3 heating systems, which is quite a significant annual cost.
          DaveMart
          • 2 Years Ago
          @BipDBo
          In many areas the alternative of switching from oil that UCS itemise will be the driver of reduced building oil use. Of course insulation against the cold is going to be of limited use in places like Florida, but better protection against the heat would greatly reduce energy use.
          BipDBo
          • 2 Years Ago
          @BipDBo
          @PR As for codes being well written, that's certainly debatable! :) Yes, we can and do design projects and run energy calculations all over the country. The colder your climate, the more valuable double pane windows are. The cheapest, most effective way to minimize energy loss through windows is to minimize the size of your windows. Many high end office buildings are made with complete glass walls, which is very wasteful considering that the windows give at best R-3 and you only need maybe 4ft to get the full view. The Florida code has set a cap of 40% of wall area can be glass, and when over 25%, the glass must be of very high performance. There are two components of glass performance: U-value and shade coefficient. U-value is a measurement of how much energy passes through by conduction (simple temperature difference) and affects both cooling and heating energy use. The shade coefficient (SC) or it's twin solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC) are a measurement of how much energy passes through by radiation. The total amount of energy passing though a window through conduction during a year long cycle in Florida is fairly small, so double pane glass is not as valuable here. The sun hits walls everywhere, however, so for any window in orientation that allows direct sunlight, a glass with heavy tinting or even better, a spectrum sensitive ("low-E") coating is of great value. This is doubly important because radiation greatly affects feels like temperature. If someone is sitting in front of clear glass with no low-E coating, receiving direct sunlight, they will turn the thermostat setpoint down to ridiculous levels in a futile attempt to feel comfortable. Every decision needs to be made on a case by case basis considering both the cost and the benefit. Many times in Florida, we use double pane glass in areas away from the coast where hurricane impact rated glass is not required. This is because in Florida, low-e, non-impact double pane glass is actually cheaper than low-e single pane glass. We never recommend using double pane glass in areas where hurricane impact rating is required because low-e double pane, impact rated glass is extremely expensive, much more so than low-e single pane impact glass. The energy saved by the extra pane is dwarfed by the cost.
          Spec
          • 2 Years Ago
          @BipDBo
          Yeah, you don't need much insulation for heating in Florida . . . but isn't also very useful for cooling? It is relatively cheap to heat buildings but cooling is more expensive. Shouldn't Florida buildings have good wall and floor insulation to keep in cooled air?
          nbsr
          • 2 Years Ago
          @BipDBo
          @PR In colder climate you can't get wrong by replacing windows and liberally adding insulation. When the temperature difference hits 30degC convection is the king. Just contract some local guys or do the work yourself. I agree with BipDBo that beyond some point the results are not worth the investment (which is one reason I would avoid expensive contractors) but in reality most buildings are way below this threshold.
        Spec
        • 2 Years Ago
        Insulating buildings is great for saving energy but it does very little to save oil. Only a relatively small percent of buildings using oil heat and those that still do should try hard to convert to natural gas. Or they should install a heat pump.
        Greg
        • 2 Years Ago
        I really hate reading about efficiently heating buildings. There are significant portions of the country (and world) that have no problem with heating; instead, they have a problem cooling. This past winter, I ran my furnace for about 2 days. Conversely, AC accounts for 75% of my annual electric consumption (and my home is well-insulated, and I keep my my thermostat at 78, so my electric bill is around half most people in my area).
          Matt Fulkerson
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Greg
          Well, almost everyone has an energy efficiency problem with related to either heating or cooling. Unfortunately, economics will probably not allow everyone to live in areas that have optimal climate in terms of overall energy efficiency. So we are stuck trying to make it work the best we can wherever we live.
      cointel
      • 2 Years Ago
      You could cut oil use 70% with a hybrid that would cost an extra $100 to build, allowing everybody to have one.
        goodoldgorr
        • 2 Years Ago
        @cointel
        If you can explain how this hybrid system work, i might be interrested to buy and adios to gazeous, packed and compressed and ready to react hydrogen gas and electrical fuelcell that are supposed to appear on the market in 2015.
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