Columnists: Rod Janssen, Independent consultant

Published on: 8 Oct 2013

Out of our comfort zone

The warnings have been there for a long time, but the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report adds new pressure for much more deliberate action to reduce GHG emissions.  The IPCC report shows that it is as bad as we thought, but collectively we were not willing to do enough about it.  The energy efficiency community, for one, has a big task ahead.

It is argued that improved energy efficiency is one of the most cost-effective ways of saving energy and reducing GHG emissions, but the average person is not convinced about “ambitious” improvements.  There has been a comfortable acceptance that a ­­– say – 20% improvement is fantastic.  It isn't.  It’s good but we now know that much more is possible.  Buildings can undergo a factor four improvement – a deep renovation – and almost unimaginable only a few years ago.  Experts also say it can be done cost-effectively. But efficiency comes at a cost and the payback can be 10 or 20 years or more. The average person does not consider this to be cost effective.

If it is cost effective from a community or global perspective, then someone must help the average person.  This is a collective problem and must be tackled collectively.

The problem is compounded by the state of the economy with high unemployment, stagnant economic growth and austerity measures to reduce high budget deficits.  That context triggers paralysis in our thinking.  There are few realistic options being proposed to undertake “deep” renovations and other energy efficiency initiatives.  In today’s environment, it is very hard to set long-term priorities and stick to them.

So, what can the energy efficiency community do?  We have to realise we are not dealmakers or deal breakers, but we have a voice and we have to use it wisely.

We frequently argue that we have the analysis to show that the benefits of improved energy efficiency are unquestionable.  Well, it is questionable if no one believes it.  Somehow better communication to wider audiences is required.

To raise our voice, we need key allies to help deliver our message. The construction industry, for example, and technology manufacturers and distributors, industry associations, the financial community and many others share our analysis and must be heard.  Yes, they have a vested interest.  That’s no problem.  So do energy supply companies have vested interests and there is no end to them expressing their voice.

Energy supply companies may not be natural allies, but they are not the enemy either.  We need what they offer.  We need reliable energy to keep our economies running and our lifestyles intact.

To make our voice heard, we also need to crystallise our message. We need to understand and explain what it means to achieve a low carbon society, what it will cost and the cost of failing to move to greater energy efficiency.   How does promoting energy efficiency compare with renewable energy or nuclear energy or planting forests in Brazil?  We need an honest explanation of what will mitigate most effectively.  And we need to make clear the full range of benefits that go beyond climate or energy policies.

The energy efficiency community has the right and the obligation to speak loudly.  There is a tremendous body of analysis to draw from, including from the 20 years of eceee summer study papers.  The energy efficiency community has to explain to the wider society, in terms that they will understand, the role and potential impact of improved energy efficiency.  This essentially means tailoring the messages to target audiences, be they householders, small and medium-sized enterprises, large industry, installers, community groups, environmental organisations and of course, policymakers.  One approach does not fit all.

The time is right for a pro-active, positive messaging.  Energy efficiency has been a vital element of energy policy since the first oil crises in the 1970s.  And it is an even more vital element for future energy policy.

Following the IPCC report, there will be a myriad of proponents of various ways to mitigate GHG emissions.  Great.  But the world has to know what energy efficiency can accomplish. The challenge for we in the energy efficiency community now is to go out and explain it is a major part of the “solution” in a way the world will understand.

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 Rod Janssen

Oct 2016

Apr 2016

Nov 2011