North American Partners Expand Efforts to Cooperate on Energy

By Andrzej Zwaniecki
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington – The United States, Canada and Mexico are preparing to give North American energy efficiency a boost.

By June the three countries will develop a plan to further align and strengthen their energy efficiency standards, the first in a series of proposed efforts to advance cooperation on energy issues, according to U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) officials.

“This will make life easier for manufacturers of appliances, lighting products and electrical equipment,” said a DOE official, who declined to be identified.

The three countries also have agreed to look at harmonizing the specifications of programs such as the U.S. Energy Star that help businesses and consumers identify the most energy-efficient products and best energy-management techniques. In addition, the nations have committed to sharing best practices and experiences on vehicle fuel economy and energy efficiency in transportation, the official told USINFO.

These are just a few of the initiatives being developed by the North American Energy Working Group (NAEWG) to accelerate integration of the three countries’ energy systems to increase energy savings and boost energy innovation and trade.

Initially, the NAEWG, which was established in 2001, was a forum in which government officials and experts could exchange ideas.  The group published two in-depth reports on the three countries’ energy markets and another on the natural gas supply and demand balance. All were praised for filling information gaps.

The launch of the North American Energy Security Initiative in March 2006 by leaders of the three countries provided the impetus for closer and more specific energy collaboration. (See related article.)

Since then, cooperation has advanced from “generating ideas to concentrating on results, from exchanging data to exchanging technologies,” the official said.

U.S., Canadian and Mexican energy officials have been working on many issues, ranging from interconnectedness of their electricity grids to the future of natural gas supplies to improvements in cross-border energy infrastructure and access to resources to energy sector reforms.

Recently, energy efficiency and clean energy technologies have drawn their attention as oil and natural gas prices have risen and become more volatile and efforts to address concerns about climate change have been made.

The private sector in the three countries, represented by the North American Competitiveness Council, also has identified energy efficiency, environmentally sustainable energy technologies and clean energy among its top priorities.

The governments have been working with the private sector to increase awareness of opportunities in these areas. Officials and private-sector representatives also want to expand efficiencies in energy infrastructure by building on the open economic environment brought about by the North American Free Trade Agreement and to identify ways to remove obstacles to trade in energy technologies.

Under Secretary of Commerce Franklin Lavin identified repetitive testing and certification procedures for electrical products among the three nations as one of such obstacles.  An ongoing effort by the NAEWG aims to streamline and assure consistent standards among the three nations.  

In addition, the North American partners have called for a regional strategy to better coordinate, complement and share results of clean energy research and development and commercialization.

“We are trying to assure that all three countries can move quickly to gain the benefits of new research and the best technologies,” the official said.

The official said biofuels have emerged as a priority for all three countries among other technologies of interest such as hydrogen, clean coal and coke, carbon capture and storage, and gas hydrates.

The three sides seek a trilateral agreement on energy science and technology cooperation, which would be a centerpiece of the strategy, according to the official. Formal negotiations on such an agreement are expected to begin soon.

The collaborative development and deployment of clean energy technologies also require some degree of convergence among the three countries’ regulatory systems.  Trilateral discussions aimed at streamlining and harmonizing regulations related to clean energy and other energy issues have progressed well through regular meetings of regulators, according to the official.

Another DOE official said he believes the United States, Canada and Mexico are ready to view their energy problems from a North American perspective as they realize that more synergy among their energy systems will help them solve those problems.