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Developing Energy Indicators in the U.S.: The EIA Experience

Energy Information Administration[1]

Stephanie J. Battles

(18th Annual North American Conference, United States Association for Energy Economics

and the International Association for Energy Economics, September 7, 1997)



Energy efficiency continues to be a vital component of the Nation's energy strategy. A new draft Energy Strategy for the Department of Energy has as its second goal, to "Increase energy productivity and energy efficiency of the U.S. energy system."  Since most greenhouse gas emissions result from the use of energy, managing greenhouse gas emissions implies managing energy use. Energy-efficient technologies, renewable energy, and other clean technology are paths that can be taken to mitigate the effects of greenhouse gases.

Those involved in negotiating international agreements (binding or voluntary) and other decision makers need to have an understanding of energy usage. They need a clear, comprehensive picture of the actual effects to date, as well as potential effects in the future, of technological advances whose design and/or ultimate effect is to improve energy efficiency. It is also important to understand how efficiency improvements interact with other social, economic, and behavioral trends that may be reinforcing or counteracting the effects of efficiency. It is important to measure these effects by means of aggregate energy-usage indicators, energy-efficiency indicators, and CO2 emissions indicators.

Although the term energy efficiency is used freely by many people, few people attempt to define what they mean. There are no standards either in the definition of energy efficiency or its measurement. At the present time, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the independent statistical agency of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is undertaking a project to address these issues.

EIA Project

In meeting its customers' needs, EIA is the most logical agency to define and measure energy efficiency. In this project, EIA has already undertaken three major steps to address these two tasks: (1) obtain a definitional understanding of energy efficiency and (2) develop indicators of energy efficiency. EIA's three major steps included the publication of an initial report to focus the issues to obtain feedback and other comments, and the use of the EIA web site to obtain further comments. Currently, EIA is in the planning stage for a second report to be published late 1998.

The Straw Man Report. In October 1995, as a first step, EIA published the report , Measuring Energy Efficiency in the United States Economy: A Beginning[2]. This report was not intended as a definitive statement on these issues, but rather, as a means of focusing the thinking of our customers and obtaining their input. In other words--this report was nothing more than a "straw man" and a "beginning" in the development of robust energy-efficiency indicators for each of the sectors of the U.S. economy.

In the development of the report, DOE, EIA, and outside sector specialists furnished feedback in the form of written reviews. Draft chapters of the report were presented for comment at seminars as soon as they were available. We placed a box containing Focus Questions in the front of the report (Box 1) to obtain further comments from our customers.

Early in the development of the first report, we identified two major concerns. The first was the limitations of the data. As an example, data for the residential sector was sufficient but data for components within the industrial sector, such as for agriculture and mining, were very limited or even nonexistent. The second was the diversity of possible energy-efficiency indicators.

Although we presented indicators in the report, for most sectors, we had an assortment of indicators. We knew that more work needed to be done . We needed to determine which indicators were the most reliable and accurate and if there were others more appropriate that were not addressed in the beginning report.

Workshops. Although the report stirred a lot of interest, formal comments were few. EIA felt we could benefit from more directed, comprehensive input from a broad spectrum of customers. So, early in 1996, EIA held 5 all-day workshops covering each of the sectors covered by the report: residential, commercial, transportation, industrial, and the economy as a whole[3].

The purpose of these workshops was to involve sector experts in the process of defining energy-efficiency measurement issues and the appropriate role for EIA in the measurement of energy efficiency. The five one-day workshops were held in Washington, D.C., in February, March and April of 1996.

The workshops were a success. Over 120 experts, representing federal agencies, industry, associations, academia, and energy-efficiency advocacy groups, attended the workshops. The participants, including engineers, economists, planners, and policy analysts, representing broad concerns as well as varied experience in the analysis of energy efficiency. The discussions generated diverse suggestions and conclusions. Since the focus of the workshops was the report, we were able to obtain critical reviews from some of the major leaders in this area of research.

The following comments present a synopsis of only a selected number of the general comments received. Many other comments we received were more specific to the different sectors. Some of the general comments were:

  • If interested in energy usage, i.e. environmental effects, use primary-energy estimates which includes losses such as generation losses.

  • If interested in energy usage, i.e. within a household, use site-energy estimates.

  • Consider economic impacts of changes in energy efficiency.

  • Consider environmental impacts of changes in energy efficiency on CO2 levels.

  • Present indicators disaggregated by energy sources.

  • Present indicators by end use.

  • Present indicators on a regular basis with consistent methodology.

  • Develop expenditure indicators along with consumption indicators.

  • Interpret the data as well as presenting it.

  • Need top down and bottom-up approaches.

  • Develop leading indicators in energy usage and energy efficiency.

  • Present a variety of indicators that may satisfy different customers, i.e. international, policy, etc.

  • Who will use the indicators and show how they can be used?

Internet.  As another step in the project, we decided to use the Internet. We originally wanted to set up a listserv. We were unable to do this so we decided to place the report, all of the workshop comments, and a conversation area upon the Internet. We used the EIA homepage address as the site. A notice was sent out to many of the workshop participants as well as other interested parties (Box 2).

Although we received several inquiries, comments, and questions about the initial report through our web site, the conversation area at the website was not successful. From those who did respond, it seemed that they were expecting either a true listserver or a chat group.

Present Research. During the summer of 1997 the main task was to explore how to incorporate as many of the comments received as possible. We are now developing the outline for the contents of a new report to be published late 1998. Additionally, as a companion to the 1998 report, we plan on developing a data base that will reside at the EIA website. To assist in the production of this new report, we hope to set up a true listserver so that we can enlist the research community in our efforts.

Much still needs to be done. We have many issues that need to be resolved, particularly regarding the numerous paths to develop indicators. In the first report and a topic at the workshops, we discussed several potential indicators for each of the sectors. Indeed, different indicators are needed for different purposes. The indicators developed, depending on the adjustment or the economic variable used, produced different results (Figure 1 is such an example). We need to decide, with the assistance from the research community, which group of indicators may be the most reliable and accurate and may be produced on a regular basis.

In producing the new report, we will attempt to follow some general fundamental rules. These rules resulted from the comments received during the development process and are as follows:

  • Use data that will be available on a consistent basis although other data may be used to interpret changes in the indicators.

  • Use all appropriate sources of data including other government data and private sources.

  • Use methodologies that may be easily be documented and produce indicators that may be duplicated--no black boxes.

  • Produce indicators that are statistically robust. Wherever the data are limited, document the caveats well.

  • Produce a data base of energy usage and energy-efficiency indicators whereby customers may undertake their own analysis.

  • Involve as many interested researchers as possible in the development of the indicators.

  • Do not promise more than we can produce in the time scheduled for this project.

  • Produce different energy usage and energy-efficiency indicators for different customers and different issues.

  • Aim to produce some timely indicators. These might be cruder, based on readily available data and could be of the leading indicator type.


As an independent statistical agency, EIA needs to take a slow, deliberate, and thorough approach to the development of energy-efficiency indicators. It is important to produce energy indicators that are not only robust, but also can be developed in a timely manner and reproduced through time. Reliable, meaningful , and timely information is a necessity if policy makers are to make accurate decisions. Identification of the markets where energy-efficient technology might be useful is a necessity if energy-efficient technology programs are to be successful. Internationally, efficiency indicators may become a necessity if indeed, international global warming treaties become binding.


1. The opinions and conclusions expressed herein are solely those of the author and should not be construed as representing the opinions or policy of any agency of the United States Government.

2. Energy Information Administration, Measuring Energy Efficiency in the United States’ Economy. A Beginning, DOE/EIA-0555(95/2).

3. All of the workshop comments may be found at the EIA website,



Specific questions on this topic may be directed to:
Stephanie Battles
(Phone: (202) 586-7237)
FAX: (202) 586-0018

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File Last Modified: October 17, 1999