Columnists: Rod Janssen, Independent consultant

Published on: 9 Mar 2018

Why improved energy efficiency?

I never thought I would have to put on my family kilt with the Anderson tartan to make a forceful comment on energy efficiency.  We are getting worked up whether the expression energy efficiency first is a slogan, as it appears in a leaked document from the European Council.  In historical terms, a slogan is a Scottish highland war cry.  Yes, today according to Oxford Dictionary, a slogan is a “short and striking or memorable phrase used in advertising.”

I believe it was the UK Association for the Conservation of Energy that first considered energy efficiency as the “fifth fuel” and there is even an organisation in the US today called The Fifth Fuel.

We have used phrases to present the concept of energy efficiency to wider audiences. What is important is to get improved energy efficiency considered an essential policy area to address many of our societal goals – health, wellbeing, a sustainable society, and so on.  Energy efficiency was brought into the armoury of policy instruments in the 1970s in OECD countries to help make us more resilient and energy secure, especially since our societies evolved into great dependence on imports.

The important point is that improved energy efficiency is a policy instrument to solve societal ills.  It is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

Our energy policies in Europe have made tremendous improvements since the oil crises of the 1970s. It is frustrating that with our data and lack of sufficient evaluations, we cannot say exactly what role improved energy efficiency has played. Through decomposition and other analyses we have a much clearer understanding. Unlike for energy supply, there is always a lag in our demand data. It will improve with such as smart meters but it will never be exact. 

Until recently, global climate conferences hardly gave improved energy efficiency any attention, even though it was giving considerable attention to GHG emissions reductions, necessarily so.

The November 2016 clean energy package presented by the European Commission was welcome but those negotiating the final package had very few analyses on what was possible and what was needed as well as on how it be achieved.  Being satisfied with a specific target is not based much more on hope and relief.

The leaked document should serve as a wake up call.  We have been concerned that implementation of the various EU energy efficiency directives has been less than stellar and that there has been a lack of funding available.  While the European Union has provided significantly more funding, it is simply not close to be what is needed.

We end up with another issue.  Our EU-wide goals for energy and climate that are to reflect our global obligations are what we as a society needs for our long-term sustainability.  But, those goals are not my family’s goals or my neighbour’s goals.  There is a gap between our societal and our personal goals (at least with current energy prices).

So, improved energy efficiency is one of those instruments to address the gap.

I want to raise one last point.  I mentioned that improved energy efficiency is important for a sustainable society. Our society is going to be in real trouble if we do not effectively address climate change.  Energy efficiency has a role but as part of a package of policy instruments leading us through the low-carbon energy transition. It does not matter whether it is first, second or fifth.  It is needed.  It is not a stand-alone policy. It has to be seen as part of a package of instruments, including renewable energy, storage and many more. The vision for the future is not improved energy efficiency. The vision is our sustainability as a people and a planet.

So, before I don my kilt, let’s now work on how we convince the greater society on the way forward.

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