David Sweet

For years energy efficiency was relegated to last place among the various energy options and referred to as the fifth fuel in the energy portfolio. Well, things have changed recently and energy efficiency is now often the best option, offering the quickest payback in terms of economic as well as environmental advantages. But a couple of recent developments in the US and the EU on energy efficiency give grounds for concern as well as hope.

In a recent report, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEEE) concluded that almost a quarter of current US energy consumption could be replaced by ‘intelligent efficiency’ affording the US a major new source of energy that could rival the contribution made to the economy by natural gas, coal and nuclear power. According to the report, the key to understanding the rise of intelligent efficiency is to stop thinking about energy efficiency simply in terms of individual devices, such as autos or refrigerators, and to start thinking about it in terms of complex systems, such as entire cities, transportation systems and other networks, connected through internet and computer technologies.

Energy efficiency policy has also been attracting a great deal of attention in the EU, with agreement reached on a law to require governments and utilities to improve energy efficiency and lower the bloc’s consumption of fuel. For the first time, it sets binding measures across the 27 Member States to enforce energy savings. Original proposals from the Commission and the European Parliament had aimed to cut energy use by 2020 by 20% of projected levels.

While the focus on efficiency is, of course, a positive step forward, and while the EU is indeed to be applauded for taking leadership and action on the issue, it is once again a missed opportunity to advance highly efficient decentralized technologies such as combined heat and power (CHP). The directive appears to be a mixed bag for CHP, with some positives at the micro level and in planning of heat and power. But it stops short of providing a policy framework that recognizes the inherent advantages of CHP.

As fuel prices and power prices continue to rise and as global economies continue to struggle, investments in efficiency are paramount. As a result of new technologies, the concept of intelligent efficiency is advancing. This makes it all the more important to develop intelligent efficiency policies so that we can fully capture the benefits.

David Sweet
Executive Director, WADE
dsweet@localpower.org

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