Energy Efficiency Is the ‘First Fuel’

Caption: International Energy Agency Executive Director Dr. Fatih Birol (left) shakes hands with Francesco La Camera, International Renewable Energy Agency Director-General, to celebrate the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding to strengthen cooperation towards a more secure, affordable and sustainable world energy regime, April 9, 2019 (Photo courtesy International Energy Agency via Twitter)

By Sunny Lewis

WASHINGTON, DC, May 14, 2019 ((  News) – “Energy efficiency is the single most effective strategy for reducing carbon emissions,” the nonprofit Alliance to Save Energy told the first congressional committee hearing on climate change in six years. It was February 6, 2019 and a warm 57° in Washington, DC, where the group urged lawmakers to prioritize energy efficiency to stabilize the planet’s rising temperature.

“Increased efficiency is an enormous economic opportunity, with tremendous untapped potential to create jobs and economic activity, particularly in the construction and manufacturing sectors, while strengthening U.S. productivity and competitiveness and saving Americans billions of dollars in energy costs,” Alliance to Save Energy President Jason Hartke told the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change.

Hartke’s statement relies on the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) finding that energy efficiency alone can account for more than 40 percent of the emissions reductions needed to meet global targets. The IEA is the global authority for energy efficiency data, analysis and policy advice.

The bipartisan alliance of business, government, environmental and consumer leaders recommends advancing energy efficiency through infrastructure, transportation policy, buildings, tax policy, and the funding of federal programs.

But federal programs under the Trump Administration are moving in the opposite direction.

On the same day as the climate hearing in Congress, for instance, the Department of Energy (DOE) proposed rules to roll back Obama-era lightbulb efficiency standards for half the bulbs on the market and to revise the Process Rule, which guides the setting of energy efficiency standards.

In the House of Representatives, with its newly elected Democratic majority, Energy and Commerce Chair Frank Pallone, Jr. of New Jersey and Energy Subcommittee Chair Bobby Rush of Illinois warned, “The Department of Energy’s proposal will allow inefficient products to remain on the market for years, costing consumers more money and increasing greenhouse gas emissions. We’re also concerned that DOE is proposing changes to the efficiency standards development process that will unfairly tilt the process in industry’s favor.”

“If you care about saving money or saving our planet from climate change, the Trump Administration’s proposals are sending us in the wrong direction,” said Pallone and Rush.

Now the lightbulb efficiency battle has gone national as U.S. states prepare to fight back with laws and legal challenges. A bipartisan mix of state attorneys general and governors say the move is harmful to the planet and may be illegal.

The Global Energy Efficiency Slowdown

Global energy demand rose by 1.9 percent in 2017, the fastest annual increase since 2010. Led by strong economic growth, energy demand outpaced progress on energy efficiency. Still, the IEA says that by taking a range of cost-effective energy efficiency opportunities widely available today, energy intensity would improve by around three percent each year between now and 2040.

Across the global economy, energy efficiency continued to improve in 2018, with global primary energy intensity falling by 1.3 percent. But this was lower than improvement rates seen in recent years, the International Energy Agency said in its latest annual report “Global Energy & CO2 Status Report: The latest trends in energy and emissions in 2018,”released March 26.

Although efficiency was still the biggest source of carbon dioxide emissions abatement in the energy sector, 2018 was the third consecutive year in which the improvement rate for energy efficiency slowed, IEA reports show.

That means efficiency offset 40 percent less carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2018 than in 2017, though it remains the largest contributor to emissions abatement.

The slow-down since 2015 is in contrast to the energy efficiency acceleration required in the IEA’s Sustainable Development Scenario . In this scenario, global energy-related CO2 emissions peak around 2020 and then enter a steep and sustained decline, fully in line with the trajectory required to achieve the objectives of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

But most emissions linked to energy infrastructure are already locked in. In particular, coal-fired power plants, which account for one-third of energy-related CO2 emissions today, represent more than a third of cumulative locked-in emissions to 2040. Most of these are related to projects in Asia, where average coal plants are just 11-years-old, on average, with decades left to operate, compared with 40 years, on average, age in the United States and Europe.

“We have reviewed all current and under-construction energy infrastructure around the world – such as power plants, refineries, cars and trucks, industrial boilers, and home heaters – and find they will account for some 95 percent of all emissions permitted under international climate targets in coming decades,” said IEA Executive Director Dr. Fatih Birol.

“This means that if the world is serious about meeting its climate targets then, as of today, there needs to be a systematic preference for investment in sustainable energy technologies. But we also need to be much smarter about the way that we use our existing energy system,” said Dr. Birol.

“We can create some room for maneuver by expanding the use of Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage, hydrogen, improving energy efficiency, and in some cases, retiring capital stock early. To be successful, this will need an unprecedented global political and economic effort,” he said.

The IEA blames 2018’s limited improvement in global energy efficiency on, “…the static energy efficiency policy environment in 2018, with lacklustre progress on implementing new energy efficiency policies or increasing the stringency of existing policies.”

Today, only around one-third of final energy use is covered by mandatory energy efficiency policies, such as codes and standards, with only marginal coverage growth in recent years.

Efforts to strengthen existing energy efficiency policies also remained weak across the world in 2018, the IEA reports. Increasing the coverage and strength of codes and standards is a key lever of energy efficiency gains.

Progress on policy measures such as financial incentives, market-based instruments, and information and capacity building programs also remains limited.

For example, many countries drive efficiency gains by placing an obligation on utilities to meet energy saving targets. But, globally, these targets have not changed since 2014 in more than half of the utility obligation plans.

Installer with one of more than 3,600 solar panels being installed in Oakville, Ontario, Canada. July 23, 2015 (Photo by Rob Campbell) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Bright Spots and Challenges

The limited overall global energy efficiency trend hides some bright spots. Europe and India both saw an increase in the rate of improvement for energy efficiency in 2018 relative to 2017.

In the European Union, the 2012 Energy Efficiency Directive introduces legally binding measures to encourage more efficient energy use. It establishes a common framework to meet the EU’s overall energy efficiency target of 20 percent by 2020. The directive provides for the establishment of national energy efficiency targets for 2020.

Energy efficiency improvements in India since 2000 prevented six percent of additional energy use in 2017, but India’s energy use is expected to more than double by 2040. The IEA concludes that the largest energy efficiency opportunities are in the less energy-intensive industry sectors, such as food, beverage and textile manufacturing.

Still, slowdowns in other major regions dictated the direction of the global energy efficiency average, the IEA reports.

In the United States, long-standing policies and technological change underpinned efficiency gains. But in 2018 the impact of these policies was outweighed by unusually high gas consumption during a colder than average winter and hotter than average summer.

In power markets, renewables have become the technology of choice, the IEA reports, making up almost two-thirds of global capacity additions to 2040, due to falling costs and supportive government policies.

This is transforming the global power mix, with the share of renewables in generation rising to over 40 percent by 2040, from 25 percent today, even though coal remains the largest power source and gas remains the second-largest.

This expansion brings major environmental benefits but also a new set of challenges that policy makers need to address quickly, the IEA points out. With higher variability in supplies, power systems will need to make flexibility the cornerstone of future electricity markets just to keep the lights on.

The issue is of growing urgency as countries around the world are quickly ramping up their share of solar PV and wind, and will require market reforms and grid investments, plus better demand-response technologies, such as smart meters and battery storage technologies.

Electricity markets are undergoing a unique transformation with higher demand brought by the digital economy, electric vehicles and other technological change.

The IEA’s latest analysis finds that higher electrification would lead to a peak in oil demand by 2030, and reduce harmful local air pollutants. “But it would have a negligible impact on carbon emissions without stronger efforts to increase the share of renewables and low-carbon sources of power,” the IEA advises.

Individual Actions Count

So, that’s where we are globally. Now, what can each of us do at home and at work to strengthen energy efficiency to combat climate change?

Maximpact works with municipalities, industries and commercial sectors to identify their energy savings potential through energy audits using artifical intelligence (AI) and identifying the optimal efficiency strategies incorporating AI and renewable energy systems.

The Maximpact team carries out energy audits using data mining and best industry practices to identify how much energy is wasted, how much can be saved and how. Then the team helps implement the identified energy efficiency strategy. Methods include artificial intelligence, which learns, monitors, plans and controls energy usage and reduces energy consumption over time.

Energy conservation is important and beneficial for many reasons. We can save money, increase property values, and protect the environment through simple energy-saving measures.

Many organizations offer lists of best practices for maximum energy efficiency at home. Here are some of the most popular ways to do it:

The International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI) based in Boulder, Colorado has a pretty comprehensive list.

  1. Adjust the heating and cooling systems: Use ceiling fans in place of energy-intensive air conditioners. Replace filters in air conditioners and heaters. Install a programmable thermostat so appliances can be automatically turned down when no one is home and at night. Install a wood stove or a pellet stove, which are more efficient heat sources than furnaces. At night, draw curtains over windows for better insulation.
  1. Install a tankless water heater. Demand-type water heaters provide hot water only as it is needed and avoid standby energy losses of storage water heaters.
  1. Replace incandescent lights with light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs). They can reduce the energy use required by lighting by up to 75 percent.
  1. Sealing and insulating a home is one of the most cost-effective ways to make it more comfortable and energy-efficient,
  1. Appliances and electronics account for about 20 percent of household energy bills in a typical home. Computers should be shut off when not in use. If unattended computers must be left on, their monitors should be shut off. Chargers, such as those used for laptops and cell phones, consume energy when they are plugged in. When they are not connected to electronics, chargers should be unplugged. Laptop computers consume less electricity than desktop computers.
  1. Use efficient ENERGY STAR-rated appliances and electronics, approved by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR Program. The U.S. EPA has said that if just 10 percent of homes used energy-efficient appliances, it would reduce carbon emissions by the equivalent of 1.7 million acres of trees.
  1. Install daylighting as an alternative to electric lighting, using natural light to illuminate the home’s interior. It can be achieved using skylights, light shelves, clerestory windows and light tubes.
  1. Insulate windows and doors.
  1. Cook smart, because an enormous amount of energy is wasted while cooking. Convection ovens that use fans to circulate hot air more evenly, allow food to be cooked at a lower temperature. Convection ovens use about 20 percent less electricity than conventional ovens. Microwave ovens consume 80 percent less energy than conventional ovens. Pressure cookers cut cooking time.
  1. Change laundry methods. Do not use the washer’s medium setting. Wait for a full load of clothes, as the medium setting saves less than half of the water and energy used for a full load. Avoid using energy-hog, high-temperature settings unless clothes are very soiled. Clean the lint trap every time before using the dryer. Excess lint is a fire hazard, and it lengthens the amount of time required for clothes too dry.

Energy Efficiency: The “First Fuel”

“While various countries are endowed with different energy resources, whether it’s oil, gas, wind, solar or hydropower, every single country has energy efficiency potential,” said Dr. Birol, the IEA’s executive director.

“Efficiency can enable economic growth, reduce emissions and improve energy security. Our study shows that the right efficiency policies could alone enable the world to achieve more than 40 percent of the emissions cuts needed to reach its climate goals without requiring new technology,” he said.

“Thanks to the critical importance of energy efficiency in building a secure and sustainable future, the IEA considers it the ‘first fuel’ and facilitates the exchange of best practices among advanced and emerging economies.”

Featured Image:  The light-emitting diode (LED) lightbulb is one of the most energy-efficient and rapidly-developing lighting technologies. LEDs emit very little heat, while incandescent bulbs release 90 percent of their energy as heat and compact fluorescent bulbs release about 80 percent of their energy as heat. September 20, 2018 (Photo by Marco Verch) Creative Commons license via Flickr

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