Columnists: Hans Nilsson, Fourfact

Published at: 13 Nov 2012

Energy Efficiency is not difficult – it is only complicated

It is amazing how much people know about energy efficiency.

In numerous investigations, people respond fairly accurately to the question of what they could do to improve their energy situation. They know that they should change lamps and luminaires, they should change, install and set thermostats, they should install speed drives and change pumps, they should insulate walls and attics and they should weatherize doors and windows. Yes they know that they should do all that. Only not now, it has to wait till the next time they get a chance.

The two conclusions that different people draw from this observation are contradictory but both justified. One says that knowledge among energy users is sufficient. They argue that people already know what to do and that there is no need for further action. If people still do not undertake the measures, it is because they are not profitable or that people prefer to waste energy.

Anotherconclusion is that people should be made aware and motivated to do what they already know is in their best interest. This conclusion is probably based on the observation that people know but still do not act (immediately).So society goes on launching awareness programs and tells people---mostly by use of glossy brochures---what they mostly already know or at least have a good hunch about.

The real problem however is that people with basic knowledge and good intentions still have problems finding out HOW to do what they know they should do. They should not be made aware or informed or motivated. They should be empowered !

But empowered by whom, and empowered how? That is for us, who has as a profession to argue energy efficiency, to find out. We will have to develop business models and find ways to empower people rather than make them aware about what they already know..

Firstly we have to admit that we are trying to sell a non-thing to people. The Negawatthour is non-existing, and that in at least two ways. Energy efficiency is almost like the Higgs particle. We can prove its existence theoretically but we cannot show it on a picture. It is a non-thing, especially when compared to its cousin the kilowatthour, a beast that at least shows itself by traces on the meter. The negawatthour only shows up, if the kilowatthour does not make an appearance.

Even if energy efficiency is a non-specific thing, it still comes in many shapes. A user can compose energy saving with a multitude of different actions put together. Open any energy magazine to find the recipes for energy efficiency; A piece of lighting, a few layers of insulation, adding some thermostats, and a pinch of speed-drives. But as any recipe for a dish to be served, there are several combinations. There is something for all tastes and diets. Maybe you would like to add some solar-shading for exotic taste. Or maybe some control-equipment with new ICT to make it more modern?

No wonder it is a hard-sell. How can the customer know the best combination and even worse, where to buy it, who will be responsible for the delivery of several technologies that should interact, who guarantees the result? ESCOs and EPCs can do some of the job – but they can normally not do it for everyone and not everywhere. Most of these companies are also specialized either on a technology or on a function.

We will have to accept that energy efficiency delivery is complicated because it has so many shapes and can still not be metered in a simple way. But we can still do a lot to facilitate the deliveries of these packages of good s and services.

The many small companies that can deliver parts of it are already there. They call themselves installers and identify themselves with the technology they sell. They will need training and need refocusing from their technologies to think more in terms of quality and result.  They will need to speak more loudly about the qualities their technology bring (i.e. energy efficiency and its many co-benefits). And they need to find new way to cooperate with other companies.

We cannot give up simply because it is complicated; We just have to find out how to deliver a better solution. To make the complicated combination of technologies an easy-to-buy over the counter commodity

Other columns by Hans Nilsson