Stipulate Energy Efficiency – Policy is Key
Updated: May 20, 2022
This blog is the final of my Three Things to Combat Climate Change Today series. If you have been following these were my three things that we should be taking action today that don’t require new technology to implement. The other two previously discussed were to curtail methane emissions and electrify everything reasonable.
Energy Efficiency, the topic of this post is not a glamorous field, particularly in the US where we much rather tout new technology in solar, wind, and storage while energy savings takes the back seat. With the instability of oil supply announced this week energy efficiency might become exponentially more recognized in the coming months. The International Energy Agency recently released their 2021 World Energy Report driving towards a 2050 Net Zero energy goal. They have calculated that worldwide we need to improve our energy intensity by 4.2% annually to meet their 2050 goal. Unfortunately, we are only accomplishing about 2% per year since 2010 and the 2020 pandemic slapped us down to 0.5% as we retreated to work from home. Reading this detailed 100+ page report might sound depressing, but there are nuggets of hope. One particular section nested more than 50 pages in didn’t jump out until my second reading: “standards and labels are a keystone of energy efficiency policy”. They go on to report that standards and labelling saved over 1500 TWh of electricity consumption in 2018. This is the same amount of wind and solar electricity generated worldwide that year.
Turing to data specifically in the US, last week the US Annual Energy Outlook report from the EIA was presented forecasting energy use through 2050. Reviewing their presentation provided insight like this chart showing the growth of wind and solar assuming their costs continue to decrease. The chart also corelates to my last post showing no decrease in natural gas use over the next 3 decades. It wasn’t until I listened to the recorded presentation and subsequent Q&A did it strike home that these data are based on current policy and not claims and projections made by car manufactures setting goals to eliminate ICE vehicles by 2035, and corporations pledging 100% renewable energy. These claims are no guarantees and subject to change at the next quarterly financial report so they are not modeled by the EIA. Recognizing that each administration also imparts changes, the bottom line is it takes policy, standards, and metrics to enact change.
Reading these two reports recapped the importance of energy efficiency in our efforts to combat climate change with both stressing the importance of policy, standards, and metrics. If we can achieve a 4% annual reduction in energy intensity it quickly scales to 3,500 TWh of electricity reduction (the equivalent of half of China’s total electricity consumption).
 K. Sadamori and B. Motherway, “Energy Efficiency 2021,” Energy Effic., p. 103, 2021.
 “Annual Energy Outlook - U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).” https://www.eia.gov/outlooks/aeo/index.php.