We Need to Talk About Energy Efficiency

February 21, 2019

We can take affordable and effective action on climate change and energy security, if we stop overlooking energy efficiency

Some positive data on a relatively easy and cost effective means to reduce fossil fuel consumption went largely unnoticed at the end of last year. Between the alarming IPCC climate report in October and the US federal government’s Thanksgiving release of the equally distressing National Climate Assessment, The International Energy Agency published a report that found that existing energy efficiency potential “could enable the world to achieve more than 40% of the emissions cuts needed to reach global climate goals without new technology.” That’s a staggering fact when you consider that much of the argument made against taking bold action on climate change revolves around the high costs of developing and switching to new generation technologies. With the right policies that maximize existing cost-effective efficiency potential, we could achieve a substantial cut in emissions while extracting twice as much economic value from the energy we use, unleashing $500 billion in spending power for consumers by 2040.

Energy efficiency is also a key tool in the rush to build climate adaptation strategies and bolster energy security. As stated in the National Climate Assessment, climate related threats to energy infrastructure and power delivery could mean “cascading impacts” across the economy. As extreme weather events and wildfires become more common, we should expect more and longer-lasting power outages. By reducing our dependence on aging and vulnerable infrastructure and decreasing overall energy capacity needs, energy efficiency helps increase grid reliability and eases the transition to a more dynamic and responsive grid. Just last week, the Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA) and the Peak Load Management Alliance (PLMA) reported in a review of power infrastructure projects that “non-wires” solutions, like energy efficiency, offer a “less risky and more flexible option” than upgrading long-distance transmission lines and substations.

Despite this promising outlook, the IEA warns that a rise in energy-using economic activity across sectors, combined with a slowdown in energy efficiency policy efforts, threatens to overwhelm the gains from higher utilization rates for market-ready energy efficiency solutions. Policies that boost energy efficiency are needed to ensure this progress isn’t lost and to accelerate cost-effective investments that maximize efficiency’s environmental and economic benefits. By implementing policies that support existing efficiency technologies and the reinvention of business models, we will strengthen the foundation for effective and affordable action on climate change.

Read the full report: Energy Efficiency 2018: Analysis and Outlooks to 2040