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Twelve strategies to step up global energy efficiency

A drastic reduction in global energy use will be essential for an affordable and manageable transition to a renewables-based clean energy future, according to a joint strategy report.

The report offers twelve strategies and recommendations to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) Global Commission for Urgent Action on Energy Efficiency.

Collaborating on the report is the European Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (eceee), the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), and the India-based Alliance for an Energy Efficient Economy.

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“Urgent action is needed,” the three organisations say, noting that global trends are going in the wrong direction. Global growth in energy use is largely outpacing decarbonisation. In 2018 the IEA reported the primary energy intensity – an important indicator of how much energy the global economy uses – improved by just 1.2%, the slowest rate since 2010.

This slowing rate of improvement is alarming and in stark contrast to IEA’s call to governments to commit to a global annual improvement in energy intensity of 3% a year. In order to get energy efficiency progress back on track, the IEA convened a high-level commission with senior politicians and business leaders.

“While carbon pricing and the removal of fossil-fuel subsidies are important to create a level playing field for energy efficiency, price and market signals alone are far from enough to steer the world in the right direction,” said Nils Borg, eceee’s executive director.

The high-level commission thus needs to revisit energy policies and come up with concrete proposals that can deliver efficiency improvements. It is expected to deliver its recommendations in the middle of 2020.

“This can be achieved by ambitious measures on many levels, including innovation research, financial support, improved understanding of consumer behaviour and economic drivers as well as strict requirements for product, vehicle, and building performance,” says Steve Nadel, ACEEE’s executive director.

Satish Kumar, president of AEEE, adds: “Developing countries, including India, must aggressively promote a culture of energy efficiency while pursuing sustainable development goals. Energy efficiency offers the cheapest, fastest, and cleanest resource for clean energy transition while addressing the immediate and significant threats posed by climate change.”

Read more on carbon emissions here

Principles to support global energy efficiency

The three organisations promote principles, including energy sufficiency and the circular economy, that support the efficiency strategies. Equally important are the multiple benefits of energy and steady work to track progress.

Energy codes and strict energy performance requirements are needed, and the paper points to the need for proper design to avoid expensive mistakes.

International knowledge transfer is an important element to quickly implement the most effective and actionable global policies.

Twelve global strategies for urgent action

The twelve strategies offer comprehensive coverage of necessary policies to deliver efficiency around the globe. For each of the policies, the three organisations provide a brief overview of what is needed to realise that particular strategy.

  1. Net zero-energy, water, waste and carbon buildings and homes are an increasing trend in regulations for new buildings, but they cannot happen without proper support and building code updates.
  2. Home and building retrofits are very important since most homes and commercial buildings that will be standing in 2050 have already been built, making efficiency retrofits critically important.
  3. Cooling is the fastest-growing end-use in buildings as its energy demand more than tripled between 1990 and 2018. Low energy cooling is crucial to counter that trend.
  4. Smart buildings and homes. Sensors, automated controls, and other smart software can optimise energy use and reduce it by 15% or more if applied correctly.
  5. Electrification of space and water heating can often reduce both energy use and emissions in regions with substantial space and water heating loads.
  6. Appliance and equipment standards deliver large savings. In Canada, China, the European Union, and the United States, appliance and equipment energy performance standards now cover more than 50 product types; these standards should be regularly updated and other countries should follow suit.
  7. Industrial efficiency. According to the IEA, overall manufacturing energy intensity could improve by 44% between now and 2040 with 70% of the energy savings potential in less energy-intensive manufacturing sectors.
  8. Vehicles have substantially increased in energy efficiency in recent years, driven primarily by ambitious fuel economy standards. Electric vehicles generally reduce energy use and often reduce emissions. More ambitious standards are needed.  
  9. Reducing vehicle distance travelled and modal shift. Improved vehicle fuel economy will not adequately address energy use over the long term in the transportation sector if growth in vehicle distance travelled goes unchecked.
  10. The freight sector can save energy through mode switching, providing seamless transitions among various modes; the digitisation of logistics; “green corridors” and using collaborative shipping arrangements to optimise vehicle loads and avoid empty backhauls. Improved management of supply chains can also reduce and shorten freight shipments.
  11. Aviation efficiency and long-distance travel. Energy use and emissions are growing rapidly in aviation. Increased access to trains and virtual meetings can help offset this trend. In aviation, improved engines, operational efficiency by air traffic control, airlines and pilots, and reductions in the amount of travel can cut aviation energy use and emissions by about 50%.
  12. New electric grid technologies can reduce power losses in the grid (as well as in homes and buildings). Better grid design, smart metering, integration of demand-side management and demand-response interventions and theft prevention efforts can further reduce losses.

Get involved in discussions on energy efficiency at the African Utility Week and POWERGEN Africa conference. Click here to register to attend or for more information about the event.

Nicolette Pombo-van Zyl
As the Editor of ESI Africa, my passion is on sustainability and placing African countries on the international stage. I take a keen interest in the trends shaping the power & water utility market along with the projects and local innovations making headline news. Watch my short weekly video on our YouTube channel ESIAfricaTV and speak with me on what has your attention.