According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), energy efficiency can deliver 38 percent of what is needed to keep our planet within the two degree scenario of global warming by 2050. Taking that into account, we should put energy efficiency first when we discuss solutions to climate change. The fact is that the technologies and solutions to make it happen already exist, and make good business sense. We just need to accelerate adoption of them. So, how do we do this?
Let’s start with the prerequisite — the technologies and the difference they can make in industry, buildings, and within energy supply.
The building sector accounts for approximately one-third of global energy use and is expected to contribute 45 percent of efficiency-related CO2 emissions savings by 2040 as a result of stricter building codes and the introduction and tightening of energy performance standards for appliances and heating equipment. Technologies like advanced variable-speed compressors, control valves and radiator thermostats can cut up to 40 percent of the energy used in the cooling and heating systems, and pay-back time is low. They have already helped make famous buildings more sustainable – such as Empire State Building, Shanghai Tower, and Tour Carpe Diem — and the potential globally is huge.
Regarding industry, there is also a lot to gain. Industry accounts for almost 40 percent of global energy use and is expected to contribute 21 percent of efficiency-related CO2 emissions savings by 2040. Electric motors account for the majority of the industrial electricity demand, which creates a strong case for optimizing electric motor systems – for instance, through variable-speed drives, which the IEA suggests be made mandatory. According to our experience, they can typically reduce energy consumption by 15-40 percent. Yet, 70-80 percent of new industrial motors worldwide are not fitted with these drives — and that number is greater among motors already installed.
Buildings and industry are, of course, part of a larger energy system with an infrastructure to distribute power as well as hot and cold water. Every day, more than half of the energy used for the generation of electricity vanishes into the air. This colossal energy waste spurs the development of district heating and cooling systems to capture the surplus heat from power generation, industrial and other processes to heat or cool buildings and supply domestic hot water. Actually, 58 percent of the CO2emission reductions required in the energy sector by 2050 could be achieved through a broad application of this type of solution. In Denmark’s capital Copenhagen, as much as 98 percent of the heat demand is covered by district heating, which is an important cornerstone in its vision of becoming the world’s first carbon neutral capital by 2025. Cities like Anshan, Dubai, Hamburg, Paris and Warsaw are also leveraging the potential.
Adding to this, energy efficiency provides an enormous opportunity to integrate any kind of renewable energy source into a smart energy system. For example, district energy networks as well as supermarkets and cold storage facilities make it possible to store energy and balance demand and supply according to the availability of renewable sources.
All this sounds great, right? However, back to my first question — how do we accelerate the adoption of the technologies and solutions? IEA projections reveal that only a third of the energy efficiency potential will be obtained under the existing and discussed policies — even though the potential climate impact from using less energy is enormous and pay-back time low.
COP21 would be a good place to start. World leaders should ensure that the new global agreement enables greater uptake of energy-efficient solutions to accelerate the use.
We need to create frameworks on global, national and regional levels that make it easier to overcome barriers such as funding, policy incentives, knowledge sharing and education. In short: we must make it easy to become energy-efficient.
Collaboration between cities and businesses – or private-public partnerships – should also be increased in order to deliver state-of-the-art, innovative solutions and secure necessary financing.
Energy efficiency is an obvious choice for combating climate change, and we are on track when it comes to technology. Let’s go for a strong agreement in Paris that can help realize the great potential.