The best way to meet increasing energy demand might not be to supply more. But, while efficiency improves security, hurdles abound.

Last night, the latest edition of the International Energy Agency (IEA) Journal was released. Titled "Visualising the 'Hidden' Fuel of Energy Efficiency," this publication focuses on efficiency as a valuable tool in our energy future. According to Fatih Bitol, chief-economist at the IEA “[the] foundations of the global energy systems are shifting” and efficiency could be a major driver in this movement. His group's latest analysis for the World Energy Outlook revealed that increasing domestic production combined with domestic energy efficiency could leave the United States “all but [energy] self-sufficient.” The U.S. could even become a net oil exporter by 2030, shifting a trend that has been a hallmark in the energy debate for decades. But, this shift depends on many factors - including significant energy efficiency gains.

Included in latest IEA journal (available for free online) are articles written by:

  1. European Commissioner Dr. Günther Oettinger on the benefits of efficiency for the European economy (pg 6)
  2. Dr. Arthur Rosenfeld (of the Rosenfeld Effect) discussing the benefits of white roofs in hot climates (pg 7)
  3. Plugged In guest author Mr. Tali Trigg, who focuses on the unique laboratory that has been created in France for electric vehicles with Paris's Autolib program (see pg 36-37)

And, on pg 12-13, is an article that I wrote - a portion of which can be found below (note that many sections were removed or shortened for the sake of brevity here). The full version of this article can be found online (free here).

Megawatts vs. Negawatts: When Less is More

Energy is a foundation of modern life and one of the key differentiators between healthy, wealthy societies and sick, poor ones. As populations grow and countries develop, the best option in meeting their rising energy demand lies in energy efficiency - getting the same for less energy or getting more from the same.

While the primary goal of energy efficiency initiatives is to reduce total energy consumption, negawatts can have benefits far beyond the kilowatt-hour. According to the United Nations Sustainable Energy for All initiative, “Energy efficiency – getting more from our existing resources – increases global resource productivity, supports economic growth and reduces costs for all citizens.”

International Energy Agency analysts Lisa Ryan and Nina Campbell say that the welfare benefits resulting from energy efficiency improvements can be broken down by level: individual, sectoral, national and global. For individuals and households, improving the efficiency of heating and cooling equipment can, for example, improve air quality within homes and offices. Further, a more efficient customer can allow a utility to serve more people, increasing access to affordable energy supplies. Energy efficiency can make industries more competitive, resulting in job creation, more flexible government budgets and improved energy security. On a global scale, increased energy efficiency can improve energy affordability and sustainable economic growth, in the process adding to global energy security.

For the optimist, energy efficiency is massively beneficial to all of society. But, the pessimist can quickly respond that an inevitable rebound will kill estimated energy savings from efficiency projects. Further, most energy markets are set up to sell more energy, not to support end-user efficiency.

Some companies do make money from selling negawatts. Over the past 12 years, Chevron Energy Solutions has found ways to eliminate billions of dollars of energy waste in the public sector as an energy services company (ESCO). In Brazil, more than 70 ESCOs are working to eliminate energy waste, primarily through improved lighting technologies.

But these organisations are the exception rather than the rule in the energy business.

There are examples of governments that have recognised and addressed this mismatch in incentives. The 1970s oil crises spurred Sweden to move towards alternative energy resources, including efficiency. Today, the country has set efficiency standards for everything from light bulbs to electric motors and has decreased its dependence on oil by more than 65%.

Moving forward, international efforts [will] allow researchers and industry around the globe to share lessons learned...Such efforts can deliver energy savings by 2035 equivalent to nearly a fifth of 2010 global demand, according to World Energy Outlook 2012 analysis. As IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven explained in announcing those findings, “energy efficiency is just as important as unconstrained energy supply, and increased action on efficiency can serve as a unifying energy policy that brings multiple benefits”.

The full version of this article can be found online (free here).

Photo Credit: Photo of lightbulb with $50 bill by Serge Milke and used under this Creative Commons License.