Energy-efficiency programs in the United States could realistically reduce the rate of growth for electricity consumption by 22 percent over the next two decades if key barriers can be addressed, according to an analysis titled “Assessment of Achievable Savings Potential From Energy Efficiency and Demand Response in the U.S.” released by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI).

The potential energy savings in 2030 would be 236 billion kilowatt-hours, equivalent to 19 times the annual electricity consumption of New York City. In other words, the demand for electricity over the next two decades could be reduced from the 1.07 percent annual growth rate projected by the U.S. Energy Information Administration in its 2008 Annual Energy Outlook down to 0.83 percent, slowing the rate of increase by approximately 22 percent.

The analysis comes at a time when utilities, regulators and policymakers are aggressively seeking ways to meet growing electricity demand while reducing the nation’s impact on the environment. The key challenge is to maximize potential gains in energy efficiency while ensuring adequate new electric generation to maintain reliability and meet future demand.

The EPRI analysis found that, under an ideal set of conditions conducive to energy-efficiency programs, the consumption growth rate could be further reduced to as low as 0.68 percent annually by 2030. However, achieving the ideal would require costly investments as well as political and regulatory support.

The report defines a realistic achievable figure that includes a forecast of likely customer behavior, taking into account existing market, societal and attitudinal barriers as well as regulatory and program-funding barriers. The barriers could reflect customers’ resistance to doing more than the minimum required or a rejection of the attributes of the efficient technology.

Faced with the challenges of managing energy resources wisely, maintaining low-cost reliable power service and reducing carbon emissions, utilities and policymakers are looking to energy efficiency as a means to achieve these objectives. Many states have established or are considering legislation to mandate energy-efficiency savings levels.