Major nations pledge to improve energy efficiency

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The world's top economies pledged Tuesday to work together to improve efficiency of electricity-guzzlers from televisions to cars, hoping to eliminate the need for hundreds of power plants.

Senior officials from economies making up more than 80 percent of global Gross Domestic Product agreed on a slew of projects to promote clean energy, belying the prolonged stalemate in negotiations on a new global climate treaty.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu voiced hope that the 11 initiatives agreed during the Washington talks would eliminate the need for more than 500 mid-sized power plants around the world over the next 20 years.

"This is about taking concrete action and concrete steps. This is not about philosophical positioning," Chu told a news conference with counterparts from the more than 20 nations participating.

"It's going to help in many ways in all the international agreements that need to be done," Chu said, hoping the two-day meeting would clear up uncertainties about a clean energy future.

One key initiative will look at ways to improve the energy efficiency of home appliances such as televisions, which the Energy Department estimated would reduce the need for about 80 power plants by 2030.

A number of nations will participate in the appliance research, including the United States, Japan, South Korea, India and European nations.

Another initiative will look at ways to collaborate in design efficiency standards for large buildings including factories -- which account for more than half of global energy use.

Governments will take part in the building initiative as will the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and corporations including US retailers Wal-Mart and Target, Japanese automaker Nissan and the Tokyo Electric Power Co.

Nations also agreed to exchange notes on one another's pilot programs to develop electric vehicles, as well as to coordinate in designing so-called "smart grids" that manage communities' power consumption.

The United Arab Emirates said it would host follow-up clean energy talks in early 2011, with Britain holding a third meeting at a later date to be determined.

The meeting was billed as a way for nations to learn from one another rather than to pledge new funds, although several nations said they planned to step up spending on research and development.

Chu estimated that the nations together have committed "hundreds of millions of dollars" in research -- and predicted that clean energy projects would come closer to fruition thanks to international cooperation.

Chu said it was important to look more broadly than immediate tasks, including the three-month-old US struggle to halt the giant BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

"If you... go forward only reacting to immediate crises and not looking forward and ahead at things, we will, to use a pun, get ourselves into deep water," he said.

In another initiative, Britain and Australia promised to take the lead in accelerating work on so-called carbon capture and storage (CCS) -- which lowers the output of carbon, which is blamed for global warming, from power plants.

CCS is considered crucial for the future of coal, which provides more than one-quarter of the world's energy supply and is politically sensitive in major polluters such as Australia, China and the United States.

"We have literally only 10 years to scale up and deploy CCS globally," said Chris Huhne, Britain's minister for energy and climate change.

"Each year of delay will lock in an increased amount of old technology which we won't get rid of," he said.

© 2010 AFP

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