Tuesday 3 February 2015

In one of my presentations on the barriers to accelerating energy efficiency I talked about “the ribbon problem”, the fact that one of the barriers to energy efficiency is that it is invisible and not very photogenic, unlike renewables or conventional power stations, making it hard for politicians to be photographed cutting a ribbon or standing in front of some dramatic installation. Try searching for energy efficiency in any online photo library and there are very few images for energy efficiency, mostly there are low energy light bulbs, a box of some description or some kind of naff logo often including a hand grasping a lightning flash. Efficiency is also invisible because it is not metered. This invisibility problem also extends to the long-term effects of energy efficiency in the economy – despite the huge scale of the effects they can’t easily be seen and people rarely talk about them. Because of this energy efficiency is under-valued at all levels from policy makers down.
The latest excellent report from the Association of Decentralised Energy (ADE), formerly the CHPA, (http://goo.gl/h3Yg6x) is entitled “Invisible Energy” and does an excellent job of highlighting some of the benefits of energy demand side activities, what we christened a few years back D3, Demand Management (permanent reduction of demand), Demand Response (short term shifting of demand) and Distributed Generation. The rationale for the report was to clearly demonstrate and explain the multiple benefits of improving efficiency and related demand side activities, to celebrate the achievements and help to change the language around the demand side. (It was tempting to say shine a light on the benefits – an LED light of course).
I have written before about how the impact of improved efficiency was completely overlooked by the energy industry and policy makers in the 1980s (see Surprise! You are living in a low energy future…. (almost) http://goo.gl/16dJWL) The ADE report shows how the UK’s GDP has doubled since 1980 while energy use has remained largely flat or declined. If the economy had the same overall level of energy intensity as in 1980 the UK would be using twice as much energy as it actually does. The ADE report that this would require an additional 14 power stations and importing twice as much gas as we currently do. Consumers would be spending an additional £37 billion on energy compared to what they are currently spending.
Critics will say that some of this change is due to the change in industrial structure and offshoring and these are real factors – but a significant proportion was down to fundamental improvements in efficiency – a result that was achieved without, it can be argued, any real policy commitment to improving energy efficiency for much of the period, except for the decade or so between the mid-1970s and the mid- to late 1980s. As I have said before, just imagine what we could do with a real sustained and comprehensive policy commitment.
The ADE report also looks at the potential for improving the demand side up to 2020. It is clear from this and many studies in many countries and regions that the economic potential for improving efficiency remains large (even massive), even in a world with $50 (or less) a barrel oil. By valuing the energy savings and the co-benefits properly, investing to improve efficiency at a national and organizational level is a “no-brainer” and a much better (higher return, lower risk) option than investing in increasing energy supply. Improvements in efficiency will continue to occur, as they have done for decades, even without improved policy interventions and irrespective of the price of energy. The challenge for policy makers, and leaders in all organizations, is how to accelerate the rate of that improvement to address the serious challenges of energy security, costs and the environment.
Congratulations to ADE on the report and their new name.
PS I subsequently discovered a previous use of the title Invisible Energy – a book by David B. Goldstein of the Natural Resources Defense Council.


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Dr Steven Fawkes

Welcome to my blog on energy efficiency and energy efficiency financing. The first question people ask is why my blog is called 'only eleven percent' - the answer is here. I look forward to engaging with you!

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