Improving energy efficiency in cities and elsewhere can reduce our demand for energy produced from fossil fuels, and hence our contribution to global warming.
By adding value to the energy sourced from fossil fuels, and indeed to renewable energy (which may be expensive or in limited supply), energy efficiency can help a country reduce its reliance on fossil fuels without suffering economic deprivation.
What is Energy Efficiency?
Energy efficiency means adding value to energy.
The energy efficiency of an activity, a building or appliance, an industry, or an economy, is its ability to produce the same or better outcomes (or at least outputs) for less energy use. It is a measure of the value obtained per unit of energy consumed.
Need for Energy Efficiency
We need to reduce global warming from fossil fuel combusion.
Reducing our consumption of fossil helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and so put a brake on global warming.
While reducing the carbon intensity of fossil fuel energy (eg through CO2 geosequestration), or of energy in general (eg through greater use of wind and solar power) would help us slow global warming, energy demand reduction can make a much greater contribution, because it reduces energy consumption at all points in the supply chain.
Causes of Energy Inefficiency
Modern industrial economies have been built on cheap energy. This has resulted in a great deal of energy inefficiency, and thus opportunities for reducing energy demand at small expense.
Examples include buildings with inadequate insulation and shading, urban transport systems based largely on private cars rather than public transport, and factories which produce waste heat that is dissipated without reuse.
If the costs of energy are low, then it can be rational to allow energy inefficiency to accumulate while concentrating on other, more pressing problems. On the other hand, energy wastage can sometimes go together with other forms of wastage, and with missed opportunities for value adding.
The Need for Periodic Overhaul of Energy Practices
Periodic overhauls of the structure or practices of an organisation, an industrial facility, or an entire economy, can usefully address a swathe of problems and opportunities, even if the primary motivation is a particular problem, such as the need to increase energy efficiency.
A company, industry or economy that doesn't rigorously pursue opportunities for energy efficiency improvement, is probably less likely to pursue innovation in general, and so be less resilient to changes in supply costs, technology, and customer preferences.
If we've gone to a great deal of trouble to set up a system that works reasonably well under current conditions, why change?
Much of what we do works well enough and doesn't need changing. But some of what we do locks in problems, and locks out opportunities. If such problems and missed opportunities accumulate or become significant, then our practices begin to look disfunctional.
Need for Higher Energy Prices
How to motivate energy efficiency improvements, and ensure that they result in reduced energy demand.
Higher energy prices can motivate energy efficiency improvements. And they can ensure that energy efficiency improvements result in energy conservation.
Unless accompanied by an increase in the price of energy, energy efficiency measures could result in an increase energy demand, because they add value to energy.
Role of Government
Governments can motivate and facilitate energy efficiency improvements.
Governments can help businesses and households increase their energy efficiency by providing information, expertise, and appropriate finance. And they can increase the price of energy, eg through a carbon tax, to motivate businesses and households to adopt energy efficiency measures, in order to avoid higher costs.
Facilitating Energy Efficiency Improvement
Energy efficiency can be gained through improvements in buildings, equipment, and practices, and by avoiding energy inefficient buildings, equipment and practices. How can we help people and organisations make improvements and avoid problems?
Need for performance standards and labelling.
Energy performance labelling and minimum energy performance standards, allow businesses and households to avoid purchasing energy inefficient buildings and equipment unwittingly. It is hard to purchase sensibly if a product's benefits are on show but many of the costs are hidden.
Need for comprehensive improvement packages.
Modifying existing practices can be difficult, because it means disrupting the solutions that businesses and households have developed for making money or enjoying life - solutions that may be well fitted to individual circumstances and capacities.
Thus, energy efficiency recommendations should be part of a package of recommendations and assistance that address a whole range of concerns that affect people and organisations. Often, energy efficiency improvements can go hand in hand with other improvements.
And if we have a range of energy efficiency measures we can choose from, we can choose the ones that are easiest for us to apply, and have the most additional benefits for us.
Need for energy consultants.
Often people need solutions specifically tailored for their situation, including help with a range of concerns that involve but extend beyond energy consumption. And often they need a fellow person to guide them through the complexity, to share ideas with, to put things in the right perspective, or more simply to apply social pressure (if I don't at least make an effort here, then my consultant will notice, and think worse of me).
Cogeneration - Involves reusing the waste heat from electricity generation, thus consuming less fuel than would be needed to produce the electricity and heat separately.
Energy Efficiency Barriers - Lack of information, inertia and other factors are preventing many organisations from taking advantage of opportunities for energy efficiency improvement that would save them money.
Energy Efficiency Innovation - Innovation in product design and production processes can help us conserve energy.
Energy Efficient Buildings - Require less energy for construction and maintenance, heating and cooling, lighting and ventilation.
Energy Efficient Industry - There are many opportunities to conserve energy in industry without reducing productivity, through improvements in energy using systems - in equipment, how it is combined, and how it is controlled.
Solar Hot Water - A cost-effective way of reducing energy demand by households, industry, and other hot water users, by incorporating energy direct from the sun.
Urban Ecology Articles
Energy Efficiency - Cushioning against Future Energy Price Rises. Michael Robertson. 2005.6
UEA Submission to the Australian Productivity Commission Energy Efficiency Inquiry
Australia needs more investment in energy conserving infrastructure so that households and businesses are not caught by rising energy prices over the next ten or twenty years. Australians should have the capacity to conserve energy by modifying their consumption of energy services, without facing barriers in the form of inconvenience, loss of safety, and the need for costly investments with uncertain returns.
Australian Government Response to the Productivity Commission Inquiry into Energy Efficiency. Australian Greenhouse Office. 2006.2
Australia's Energy Efficiency Performance. Securing Australia's Energy Future. Energy White Paper. Australia. 2004
Delivering Energy Efficiency Savings (PDF) Environment Food and Rural Affair. United Kingdom. 2003.
Demand Side: Management: Energy Efficiency Potential in South Australia. Richard Lee and John Denlay. Energy SA. 2002
Doing More With Less. Green Paper on Energy Efficiency. European Commission.
Energy Efficiency Action Plan (South Australian Public Sector). Administrative and Information Services. South Australia. 2002.5
Energy Efficiency Manual. Donald Wulfinghoff. United States. Comprehesive guide to energy efficiency in buildings and industry.
Energy Efficiency Opportunities Amendment Bill 2006 - Australian Parliament.
Energy Efficiency Scope and Benefits. Securing Australia's Energy Future. Energy White Paper. Australia. 2004
Improving Productivity: Energy Efficiency Opportunity Assessments. Securing Australia's Energy Future. Energy White Paper. Australia. 2004
Leading the Way: Continued Opportunities for New State Appliance and Equipment Efficiency Standards. Appliance Standards Awareness Project. United States. 2006
The Negawatt Revolution - Solving the CO2 Problem, Amory Lovins, Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, 1989
The Private Cost Effectiveness of Improving Energy Efficiency. Productivity Commission. 2005.10
Towards a National Framework for Energy Efficiency. National Framework for Energy Efficiency. Australia. 2005.10
What is Energy Efficiency? Securing Australia's Energy Future. Energy White Paper. Australia. 2004
Energy Rating - Guide to Energy Efficient Appliances
Energy Smart (NSW) - Home and Business energy efficiency tips and information.
Energy Star - Energy efficiency standard for electronic equipment, requiring it to automatically switch into a 'sleep' mode when not being used and/or reduce the amount of power used when in 'standby' mode.
Energetics. Consulting firm that helps businesses to reduce energy consumption.
Energy Consumption in Residential Buildings, NSW Parliament, 2004
Energy Efficiency, Sustainable Energy Authority Victoria
Energy Efficiency Inquiry. Productivity Commission. 2005
Industrial Energy Efficiency Project. Warren Centre for Advanced Engineering
National Framework for Energy Efficiency. Aims: Promote the uptake of energy efficient technologies and processes across the Australian economy. Unlock the significant but untapped economic potential associated with increased implementation of energy efficient technologies and processes.
Action to Improve Energy Efficiency in the UK - Environment Food and Rural Affairs. United Kingdom
Alliance to Save Energy. United States
Carbon Trust - Save Energy. United Kingdom
Centre for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. University of Massachusetts - Provides technological and economic solutions to environmental problems resulting from energy production, industrial, manufacturing, and commercial activities, and land use practices.
Energy Saving Trust. United Kingdom