Semiconductor Technologies: The Potential to Revolutionize U.S. Energy Productivity

Semiconductor technologies are so essential to advances in energy efficiency gains that the U.S. economy could expand by more than 70 percent through 2030 and still use 11 percent less electricity than it did in 2008, according to a major news study by the nonprofit and independent American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).

Titled Semiconductor Technologies: The Potential to Revolutionize U.S. Energy Productivity, the new ACEEE report concludes that semiconductors already are the leading factor behind energy efficiency gains. The report states: “Compared to the technologies available in 1976, we estimate that the entire family of semiconductor-enabled technologies generated a net savings of about 775 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity in the year 2006 alone … [H]ad we expanded the size and scope of the U.S. economy based on 1976 technologies, it appears that the U.S. would be using about 20 percent more electricity than actually consumed in 2006. Stated differently, had we continued to rely on 1976 technologies to support the U.S. economy today, we might have had to build another 184 large electric power plants to satisfy the demand for goods and services.”

In addition to eliminating the need for 184 additional power plants, the estimated 775 billion kWh savings in 2006 attributed to semiconductor-enabled technologies also can be expressed as: $69 billion dollars in business and consumer savings (or $613 per U.S. household); enough power to keep 64.5 million U.S. households going year round; and the prevention of 479 million megatons of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent emissions prevented – a 20 percent cut in electric utility industry emissions linked to climate change.

John A. “Skip” Laitner, Director, Economic and Social Analysis, American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, said: “In many ways, the story of the gains in energy efficiency since the mid 1970s and the mid 1990s, in particular, is the story of the rise of the semiconductor. However, the powerful connection between semiconductors and energy consumption is more than just unappreciated; it is actually misunderstood by some. Despite the immediate growth in electricity demands to power the growing number of devices and technologies, semiconductors have enabled a surprisingly larger energy productivity benefit in that same period.”

Brian Halla, Chairman, President and CEO, National Semiconductor, said: “For many years, it has been a commonly accepted view that future generations will have to lower their expectations and plan to live in a very different world – a world in which progress will be heavily constrained by energy issues. Fortunately, that pessimistic vision of our future need not come to pass. As the ACEEE study shows, we have the ability to continue to drive economic growth, protect and enhance our environment, and pass on a better world to future generations. Our industry – the semiconductor industry – is hard at work today to invent and produce solutions to the most critical energy issues.”

Since their emergence in the 1970s and widespread use in the 1990s, semiconductors have been an essential tool for energy efficiency. Faster, better, and cheaper microprocessors; computers; and telecommunications equipment – and the improved software capabilities that drive their performance – have accelerated both the adoption of these technologies and their growing networked use. Semiconductors enable the improved operation of motors and the motor systems that heat and cool our homes, and that provide pumping and mechanical power in our industrial facilities.

Energy solution that are described as “smart” – from smart buildings to smart appliances to the Smart Grid – have semiconductor sensors to measure temperature or other variables; communications chips to receive and transmit data; memory chips to store the information; and microcontrollers, microprocessors, and power management chips to adjust energy loads. Smart grid technologies also enable a more cost-effective deployment of decentralized but cleaner renewable energy resources such as solar panels and wind turbines, which are also enabled by semiconductors. Smart grids may also enable plug-in hybrid cars to stretch gasoline dollars, and provide battery storage units for the nation’s electric generation system.

A streaming audio recording of the news event announcing this report is available at

Semiconductor Technologies: The Potential to Revolutionize U.S. Energy Productivity is available for free download or a hard copy can be purchased for $30 plus $5 postage and handling from ACEEE Publications, 529 14th St, N.W., Suite 600, Washington, D.C. 20045, phone: 202-507-4000, fax: 202-429-2248, e-mail: [email protected].

ACEEE thanks the members of the Semiconductor Industry Association for providing needed primary information and other support for this project.

For the full presss release, click here.

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