Columnists: Hans Nilsson, Fourfact

Published on: 28 Nov 2007

Energy efficiency: Past the tipping point?

This reflection is finalised a few days after the release of the IPCC 4th assessment report and the IEA World Energy Outlook, WEO. Comparison of these two documents clearly shows that:

  • The present and planned policies and measures are insufficient to stop the ongoing degradation of the climate and the growing emissions (WEO).
  • There are known policies, measures and technologies that can prevent the climate disaster if put into practice immediately (IPCC).

These observations are important to understand the significance of the eceee Summer Study and put it into perspective.

Balancing on the tipping point

Energy efficiency has become a mainstream activity. We, as an energy efficiency community, are now beyond the discussion whether there really is a savings potential and if it is cost effective. Today, the discussion has focused much more on how the possible energy savings should be realised:

  • There is a shift in the focus from efficiency to total consumption (already in 2003, the theme of the Summer Study was “Time to turn down energy demand”).
  • There is a much stronger focus on government regulation today and the fact that both industry and government have separate, distinct but supporting, roles in the implementation. With enlightening and motivational addresses from Jean Lemierre (president of the European bank for Reconstruction and development), John Llewellyn (senior economic policy adviser at Lehman Brothers), Fiona Hall (MEP) and professor Ralph Sims (currently at IEA, representing IPCC), the Summer Study concluded that since the last meeting, public attitude and governmental policies had totally changed.
  • There are three new Directives in place in Europe – the Buildings Directive, the Eco-design Directive on Enery using Products, and the Energy Services and End-use Efficiency Directive – on which everybody needs to take action, which has further raised the interest for efficiency.

There is however still a risk that this remains a political and rhetoric figure if the insights are not transformed into knowledge and actions. (The theme of the 2005 Summer Study was “What works and who delivers?”.) In other words, we have to go through the “tipping point” – the time when ideas such as the need to pursue energy saving measures more aggressively become the accepted norm.

We, as the Energy Efficiency community, need to move our focus from justifying energy efficiency and examining the barriers to activities focussed on deployment of energy efficiency measures accompanied with a cultural change to attitudes on sustainable energy in all sectors. We also need to repeat, over and over again, our story that new supply, even if from renewable sources, does not serve any purpose if it is feeding wasteful use.

Where to from here?

During the conference, there were many detailed presentations showing how energy saving activities are growing in all sectors of the economy. It was concluded that Europe had the policies, technologies and activities to deliver the 20 % energy saving target (cost-effectively) by 2020 that is required by EU Member States. Indeed, with more aggressive policies, this 20 % energy saving target could be met earlier – the need now is to prosecute the existing activities more rapidly.

There is however a trap in the fact that we can do more with less. We may very well make the choice to just do more with the money we save, i.e. feed the GHG-emissions and the climate change further instead of reducing it. We have to take a further step and discuss not only efficiency, but how to reduce energy demand , and to ensure that the savings serve sustainability. We need a greater acceptance of the fact that energy policy should aim at reduced energy use rather than just improved efficiency.

  • There is a need for a paradigm shift in the area of non-technological solutions. A focus on technology, or economics, alone will not provide the policy answers.
  • There is a need to focus more on non-energy benefits as positive outcomes of energy efficiency actions.
  • The most needing EU-member states may have the strongest benefits from energy efficiency actions but often lack the political priority and/or the capacity and/or the financial resources to implement them. We must find ways to support them.


The eceee 2007 summer study proved to be well ahead of its time in detecting the issues that the comparison of IPCC and WEO shows – the need for a break of the trends. It also hinted on where focus has to be put, to move us past the tipping point. Now we just have to do it!

Go to the eceee 2007 Summer Study proceedings web page!

The views expressed in this column are those of the columnist and do not necessarily reflect the views of eceee or any of its members.

Other columns by Hans Nilsson