Ed’s note: Energy efficiency – the dark horse for reaching net zero

By Jonathan Spencer Jones

Jun 14, 2022

In the day-to-day businesses of utilities, as reflected in the comments and stories that reach our desk, we hear a lot for example about smart metering and how consumers can become more aware of their consumption, but rarely is there mention of energy efficiency as a technology or approach.

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But as representatives at the IEA’s global meeting on energy efficiency last week reminded, energy efficiency has an important role to play. This is particularly true with surging and volatile energy prices in many parts of the world

“Energy efficiency and demand side action offer immediate opportunities to reduce energy costs and reduce reliance on imported fuels,” they said in their closing statement.

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A new IEA study prepared for the event, reports that doubling the current rate of energy intensity improvement from 2% to 4% per year over this decade is required to meet the organisation’s net zero by 2050 scenario and lowering final energy demand by 5% by 2030 but serving an economy 40% larger.

As with other actions, achieving this hinges on a global push on energy efficiency and related avoided energy demand measures including electrification, behaviour change, digitalisation and material efficiency in industry.

The study states the short-term potential to be greatest in the transport and buildings sectors, while efficiency-related measures are also crucial for industry.

Notably, it also includes providing clean and efficient cooking and heating to all those who lack it today due to the reduction in demand for traditional uses of biomass such as wood and charcoal – about one-third of the world’s population, according to Sustainable Energy for All data and outside the immediate scope of many players in the sector.

With the potential to provide one-third of the emissions reductions needed for net zero according to the study, energy efficiency – if enhanced, as it proposes – has a key role to play towards net zero.

The question that arises is who should be taking the lead in promoting and/or delivering energy efficiency options and opportunities. As they are broad, ranging from more energy-efficient appliances and unplugging them when not in use to costly building upgrades and energy management systems, there are many potential parties.

But surely is it not ultimately the responsibility of all of us in the sector, from governments to the utilities and other organisations with their net zero plans to the end consumer?

Jonathan Spencer Jones
Specialist writer