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29 Apr 2022

Energy Efficiency: An Investment in the Future

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Energy Efficiency
Author
Ayodeji Stephen, a Policy Research Analyst for the Electricity Hub. 
Energy Efficiency

Sustainable energy development comprises the dual components of renewable energy and energy efficiency. While the world is moving at a good pace in decarbonization through the adoption of renewable energy technologies, energy efficiency measures still remain in their infant stage.  

Energy efficiency, by way of definition, refers to the use of a lesser amount of energy to perform the same task or produce an equal number of results. It is different from energy conservation, which is the use of less energy for a lesser amount of work. An example of energy efficiency is the comparative energy consumption for lighting by incandescent bulbs and LED bulbs. Research has shown that Light Emitting Diode (LED) bulbs use just about 20 to 25% of energy to produce the lighting compared to incandescent lighting. They have also been found to last 25 times longer than their counterparts. Generally, homes and buildings that are energy efficient in their design consume less energy for heating, cooling, and powering appliances and electronics. Energy-efficient Industrial facilities also use less energy for their operating activities. 

An energy-efficient economy, therefore, has huge benefits for the electricity sector. It benefits both the key players, the generation, transmission, and distribution sectors of the electricity value chain and the consumers. Adopting energy-efficient measures translates into lower cost implications for energy consumers. On the supply side, utilities have lesser strain to combat, as the need for new expensive resources will be minimal. Energy efficiency also promises a reduction in the amount of electricity on the grid at a time. This helps to minimize grid congestion and stress on the electricity grid, as a lesser load prevents power disruptions. 

Furthermore, energy efficiency is a positive for decarbonization. While renewable energy serves as a substitute for present conventional energy sources, energy efficiency curbs energy consumption while at the same time reducing GHG emissions. Saving energy is the most cost-efficient approach, as no new generation facilities, transmission lines or distribution channels have to be paid for. The IEA refers to energy efficiency as ‘First Fuel’ and describes it as the only fuel all countries avail of. 

The use of energy-efficient technologies in all sectors could result in key financial savings across the economy. The saving potential due to measures using technology already available on the market is enormous, from household savings to industrial and buildings.  

Households and buildings are one of the easier sectors to adopt energy efficiency in. Integrating green architecture with measures including adding insulation and upgrade of home appliances to more efficient technologies could significantly cut costs, improve comfort and improve appliances’ life. Adopting behaviours that improve energy management and conservation such as switching off light bulbs and electric outlets when not in use is another way to ensure energy efficiency at home.  

According to the IEA’s Sustainable Development Scenario, energy efficiency plays a 40%1 role in the amount of emissions decline that is necessary by 2040. Buildings represent a significant aspect of carbon emissions and there has to be an improvement in energy efficiency in buildings by 30-50% per square meter if the Paris Agreement will be met by 2030. 

In the transportation sector, energy-efficient vehicles, usually modern ones, result in cost savings on fuel and emit fewer or no greenhouse gases or pollutants. As one of the hard-to-decarbonize sectors of the economy, alternative energy fuels e.g., hydrogen gas/fuel cell or car types (electric vehicles) must be rapidly deployed to achieve net-zero goals. This is not just because they reduce fossil fuel use, they are also five times3 more efficient than conventional vehicles. 

Mainstreaming energy efficiency will require policy interventions that combine regulations with education and incentives. Employing minimum energy performance standards for equipment could be a very useful approach to improving industrial efficiency. This can be done by setting targets for efficiency, consumption, or emissions for industries. China’s “Top 10,000 Programme” was initiated following the success of the Top-1,000 Programme. The programme sets and closely monitors the progress in energy savings targets on more than 10,000 large energy-intensive companies. 

The use of streamlined ticketing mechanisms, platforms that make real-time status information more available, and adequate infrastructural investments in public transit would make the transport sector more energy-efficient, safe, convenient, and reliable. Achieving this would create a behavioural incentive that would compel an increased use of public transport, walking or using motorcycles. 

In addition, the use of digital technologies would enhance more energy-efficient practices in residential buildings, stimulating energy-efficient behaviours in the house. The use of smart meters, thermostats, and mobile applications can help consumers better track their energy consumption and help curb an unnecessary waste of energy.  

Lastly, the creation of financial incentives could help remove the financial constraints on the path of consumers to become energy-efficient and thereby attract private investments. Governments should also take the lead in expanding access to funds and investments in energy efficiency and in the installation of clean energy infrastructures, and low-carbon technologies.  

This blog post is authored by Ayodeji Stephen, a Policy Research Analyst for the Electricity Hub. The article is originally published on the electricity hub.

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