Energy efficiency – the concept of using less energy while keeping people and economies active and growing – came to the fore in the 1970s in response to the oil crises experienced by Western industrialised countries. However, the upfront costs were high and any potential returns were over a payback period far too long to be attractive. As the world moved into the new millennium, energy and the need to use it more efficiently resurfaced, this time on the global agenda rather than in national contexts. The UNFCCC published solid evidence about the impacts of GHG emissions on our planet. In parallel, the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimated that energy production and consumption accounted for two-thirds of total GHG emissions and 80% of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions (IEA, 2018).
The proven potential for energy efficiency as a major contributor to global sustainable development and to promoting human prosperity goals – while helping to mitigate climate change – has driven IPEEC activities since its inception in 2009. Ten years on, it is timely to ask whether the message has been received and to what effect.
Since 2009, IPEEC has helped the Group of 8 (G8) and Group of 20 (G20) governments strengthen their commitment to energy efficiency; it now co-ordinates the G20 Energy Efficiency Leading Programme (EELP). As these economies represent more than 80% of global energy use and more than 80% of GHG emissions (OECD, 2015), their actions will shape the global future.
Past trends linking economic growth, rising energy demand and higher emissions expose the need to design and build future systems that deliver energy services much more efficiently. While most countries have implemented some form of energy efficiency policy, there is now broad recognition that a proactive global approach is needed to maximise impacts.
Five key questions:
- Why does energy efficiency matter? Without energy efficiency improvements, the world would have used 12% more energy in 2016 – equivalent to the consumption of the entire European Union (IEA, 2017).
- What is “in it” for us? Energy efficiency delivers benefits for people, the economy and the climate. The advantages it brings are inclusive, and in line with most nations’ strategic interests: economic prosperity and competitiveness, reduced pollution, better health, and energy security, to name a few.
- What is the opportunity? Significant energy efficiency potential still remains untapped: across sectors, energy demand could be reduced by 60% to 80% through economically viable measures (IEA, 2017).
- What is it challenging? Barriers to the uptake of energy efficiency include lack of awareness, the complexity and scale of the challenge – including the range of sectors involved – and uncertainty regarding costs and returns on investment.
- What does energy efficiency need? Energy efficiency requires specific human, institutional, legal, technical and financial capacities. Without support to develop and deploy such capacity, it will be impossible to implement energy efficiency measures. Multiple studies show that the upfront costs will deliver huge benefits to society, far exceeding the returns of any other investments in the energy sector.