[73] Efficiency, electricity and energy security

Energy efficiency is well recognized as the biggest and cheapest potential for decarbonising the EU economy.

Through the ‘efficiency first’ principle, recognition is increasing for improving Europe’s energy independence, which is of course strongly linked to decarbonisation efforts.

The same linkages can be made with electricity instead of efficiency. As a high exergy form of energy, there is a factor 2 to 5 improvement in end-use efficiency when substituting other energy carriers by electricity. In addition, as a single system with many sources and potentially serving all energy needs, it is relatively easy to plug in another electricity source to diversify supply and improve energy security.

[72] The challenge of quantification

The multiple benefits of energy efficiency are a recurring theme in this booklet [50, 77, 79, 92]. A lot of work has been performed to identify and quantify these benefits at the macro level, producing a reasonable body of evidence for policy makers.

However, little progress has been made thus far to make the multiple benefits count at the micro level, i.e. for projects. That’s why it is exciting news that a H2020 project is starting on this topic – the M-Benefits project on ‘Valuing and Communicating the Multiple Benefits of Energy-Efficiency Projects’. The promise of M-Benefits is nothing less than promoting energy efficiency to be a strategic priority within organisations.

[66] Is energy still too cheap?

Increasing energy prices could benefit energy efficiency, that is clear. But it is often considered to hurt the weakest residential consumers as well as energy-intensive industry.

Maybe the sequence of events should be reversed, and energy efficiency should come before raising prices. Once energy end-use becomes more efficient, higher  prices are less painful and can pay their contribution to the complex and decarbonised energy system of the future.

That leaves the question open as to how to stimulate energy efficiency without raising prices. The EU has been successful in doing so for the past 25 years, which demonstrates that there must be a way.

[64] Efficiency is healthy

Have you ever wondered what the link is between energy efficiency and clean air?

Reducing energy consumption lessens the need to burn fossil fuels to generate electricity. Those cuts deliver big gains in health, because pollutants from burning fossil fuels contribute to four of the leading causes of death: cancer, chronic respiratory diseases, heart disease and stroke.

Energy efficiency also improves air quality indoors, making people healthier and more comfortable inside their homes. Efficiency improvements can remove health risks such as carbon monoxide from backdrafting appliances and eliminate exposure to extreme temperatures.

[63] Ten layers of energy conservation

The Pyramid of Conservation is a visualization of a home energy efficiency to-do list. It is designed to prioritize steps and develop an appropriate action plan.  

It starts with the basics – a home energy audit – followed by low cost items such as programmable thermostats and hot water settings, before moving up through lighting, air sealing, insulation, windows etc.

Interestingly, high-cost, slow-return investments such as solar panels and residential wind turbines are right at the top of the pyramid – very much the ‘cherry on the cake’.