Many industry observers will not be surprised to find out that Germany outranks the U.S. in terms of energy efficiency, according to the second International Energy Efficiency Scorecard put out by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

But it’s not just the Germans, who are known for their efficiency and engineering prowess, that best the U.S. in this category. Italy, India, Spain and China are just a few of the major world economies that also ranked above the U.S., which came in thirteenth out of sixteen countries.

The nations, which together account for 71 percent of global energy consumption, were evaluated across 31 categories for a total of 100 points. The categories fell into four areas: energy use at a national level, buildings, industry, and transportation.

Germany led in industry, China led the scoring for building efficiency, the EU was first in national efforts, and Italy topped the list for transportation.

“There’s really no excuse for the U.S. lagging behind other nations on energy efficiency. States like Vermont have demonstrated that energy efficiency saves money, reduces environmental impact, and creates jobs,” Congressman Peter Welch (D-VT), said in a statement.

ACEEE added some new metrics this year, including water efficiency, agricultural efficiency, building retrofit policies, heavy-duty fuel economy standards and investment in energy efficiency by the private sector. The U.S. had its highest point score for building efficiency, scoring 14 out of 25, tying with the U.K.

Because of the addition of new metrics, ACEEE does not encourage comparison of rankings to the inaugural Scorecard from 2012. Even so, in 2012, the U.S. was ninth out of a dozen countries, which suggests that the U.S. has not made significant progress in the past two years.

There is ample room for improvement in areas such as industrial efficiency, where the U.S. could vastly increase its use of combined heat and power systems and employ mandatory energy audits, as many other countries already do. 

“The story of inaction and stagnation definitely applies to the United States,” said Rachel Young, research analyst with ACEEE and lead author on the report. "The overall story is disappointing,” she added. Young also noted that Germany, China and Canada are pulling ahead and will eventually be “more nimble and resilient” than the U.S. But even the countries with the most advanced policies still have significant room for improvement, according to Steve Nadel, director of ACEEE. 

The ACEEE report gives low scores to the U.S. for factors that will likely never change. The number of vehicle-miles traveled per person, for instance, “far exceeds the [vehicle miles traveled] by people anywhere else in the world,” the report states.

While the U.S. -- and its cities in particular -- could certainly benefit from more effective public transportation and modern regional rail systems, the U.S. is also much larger in area than many of the other countries it competes against, and as such, the vehicle-miles traveled in the U.S. will always be greater.

With that caveat, the average fuel economy in the U.S. is still the lowest of all the countries that have standards in place. ACEEE calls for the federal government to set standards that are at least as stringent as the current provisional standards in place for 2021-2025.

Many of the other recommendations are also at the federal level, from a national energy-savings target to congressional spending on energy-efficient transportation to industrial assessment centers that could speed the adoption of systematic energy-efficiency best practices. Much of the action, however, is happening at the state level, from calls for efficient electrical grids to energy efficiency portfolio standards. Germany, by comparison, has a goal of reducing its energy consumption by 50 percent by 2050 compared to 2008 levels.

“Countries that use energy more efficiently use fewer resources to achieve the same goals, thus reducing costs, preserving valuable natural resources, and gaining a competitive edge over other countries,” said Young. "In the United States, we need to do more on energy efficiency to remain competitive in an increasingly tough global marketplace.”