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Felicity Bradstock

Felicity Bradstock

Felicity Bradstock is a freelance writer specialising in Energy and Finance. She has a Master’s in International Development from the University of Birmingham, UK.

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Energy Efficiency is Critical for a Sustainable Future

  • Energy efficiency is often overlooked in favor of ramping up renewable energy capacity.
  • Energy waste is a major problem, with around three-quarters of global energy wasted due to inefficient systems and behaviors.
  • Improving energy efficiency and reducing energy waste can cut carbon emissions, save money, and alleviate the burden on green energy production.
Energy

As governments focus on developing their renewable energy capacity, many are overlooking a vital element to boosting clean energy security –energy waste management. Countries worldwide must fix their existing systems to ensure that energy is not lost in transit and use and that electricity grids are prepared for the influx of new clean energy projects expected over the coming decades. 

The founder and chairman of the environmental non-profit organization Solar Impulse Foundation, Bertrand Piccard, is calling for greater focus on reducing energy waste instead of merely ramping up renewable energy capacity. Piccard highlighted that around three-quarters of global energy is wasted “due to inappropriate behavior and inefficient systems or infrastructures.” He explained, “So if we try to replace fossil [fuel] energy with renewables without being efficient, without reducing the consumption, it’s hopeless.” 

Piccard emphasized the potential oversupply of solar panels from China to Europe, as governments ramp up their solar energy capacity targets. China has been hugely successful in producing vast amounts of panels at a low cost. This has led to far less solar panel manufacturing in more expensive regions, such as Europe, and a greater reliance on China to provide panels worldwide. This has made it difficult for domestic manufacturers to compete, which has led governments to consider the introduction of tariffs on China’s renewable energy exports, which we could soon see in the U.S. 

China is expected to sell huge quantities of solar panels to countries around the world, allowing them to develop low-cost solar energy projects. This reflects the significant advancement made in solar power technology. However, it could also lead to an overreliance on increasing capacity rather than improving efficiency across all energy sources and reducing energy use. 

Professor Nick Eyre, a professor of Energy and Climate Policy at the University of Oxford, explained, “Historically, energy efficiency has delivered the largest share of greenhouse gas mitigation, and reinventing it for the era of renewables will enable us to continue this trend and achieve net zero by 2050.” 

Meanwhile, Mark Maslin, a professor of Earth System Science at the University College London, stated, “Energy efficiency is crucial if we are to have a fighting chance of honoring the Paris Agreement of 2015, reaching net zero and keeping climate warming under 1.5°C. We must remember the IEA has stated that energy efficiency will be able to provide one-third of the carbon saving required towards net zero. We can achieve this and ramp up energy efficiency by electrifying as much of our energy system as possible, enabling flexibility in energy supply, demand and storage, and re-using waste heat.” 

A 2023 whitepaper by Danfoss Climate Solutions entitled Energy Efficiency 2.0: Engineering the Future Energy System suggested that the EU and U.K. may be able to achieve annual societal cost savings of $11.2 billion by 2030 and $16.6 billion by 2050 by maximizing the potential of demand-side flexibility. This would help the region cut CO2 emissions by an estimated 40 million tonnes and reduce the electricity generation from natural gas by 106 TWh, or about one-fifth of the EU’s natural gas consumption for electricity generation in 2022. The publication also stated that transitioning away from fossil fuels to a fully electrified system could cut up to 40 percent of final energy consumption. 

Danfoss also highlights the need to ensure energy efficiency in emerging technologies. The hydrogen market is growing at an accelerated pace, as governments and companies worldwide look for cleaner fuel alternatives to power hard-to-abate industries such as manufacturing and aviation. Converting renewable energy into hydrogen via electrolysis requires large amounts of energy, which many believe could better be used directly as electricity. Therefore, we must develop high-efficiency electrolysis technologies to enhance the conversion process, as well as focus on reducing the demand for hydrogen. 

The whitepaper suggests that is possible and necessary to strategically integrate sectors that deploy excess heat to lower energy demand and boost efficiency. The report states that by the end of the decade, up to 53 percent of the global energy input will be wasted as excess heat, but that this heat can be captured and reused to power machinery, as well as heat buildings and water through deeper sectoral integration. 

At present, we live under the illusion of false abundance. The energy systems in place globally are highly inefficient and the world’s energy demand is continuing to rise. Therefore, governments are scrambling to rapidly replace the existing energy supply with renewable alternatives to support decarbonization efforts. Meanwhile, little is being done to reduce inefficiencies and curb unnecessary energy use. Improving energy efficiency and reducing excess use will help decrease carbon emissions as well as alleviate the burden on governments seeking to ramp up green energy production at an unsustainable pace. 

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By Felicity Bradstock for Oilprice.com 

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