Improving energy efficiency requires daily effort, attention to detail and behaviour change. All this accomplishes the relatively small savings that accumulate in the end.
Sometimes the comparison with smartphones is made. These occupy a significant part of our lives. Users accomplish complex tasks with them, e.g. choosing, operating and maintaining a wide variety of apps. However, unlike energy efficiency, they cost money rather than save it. If only energy efficiency could acquire the appeal of smartphones.
We implement efficiency measures, and electricity consumption increases. Have we done something wrong? Not necessarily: when we use electricity for more energy services, we’re comparing apples with oranges.
Energy efficiency works well as a technical metric for individual energy services. For systems such as homes, buildings, organisations or cities, in which energy consumption is the aggregate of many services, measuring efficiency is much more complicated (yet it is where the biggest savings are).
Note also the difference between energy efficiency (doing more with less) and energy conservation (doing less). The latter is the bigger challenge.
Data is the industry of the 21st century. Money, markets, reputation and trust are becoming increasingly digital. This is also the case for energy and services. Data is the raw material of the 21st century. It’s essential that its storage, protection, management, distribution and access are both energy efficient and powered by renewables.
Fortunately, data appears to be less energy-intensive than materials, and major actors in this sector are already making investments into sustainable energy. For example, Google procures as much renewables as it consumes on an annual basis. Next step is to balance on hourly basis.
The problem with energy savings (so-called ‘negawatts’), is that they are difficult to measure. Metering technology has improved significantly since 2011, but the problem of the construction of a solid baseline remains. Another challenge is that some investments into energy efficiency, especially in buildings, have long payback times, and both ESCOs and building operators may be reluctant to enter into such long-term contracts.
As a result, a 2017 report from JRC finds that the European ESCO market is falling somewhat short of expectations. The total EU market was estimated at €2.4 billion ESCO revenue in 2015, with a forecasted growth to €2.8 billion in 2024 at a 1.7% compound annual growth rate.
‘Tradable Energy Quotas’ or ‘Personal Carbon Credits’ were hotly debated at the turn of the past decade. Since then, they have rarely been in the news. Multi-level governance, recognizing the role of intermediate actors such as businesses, cities and regions, superseded this debate. We don’t need to push action down to the individual level, but all of us should consider to take action in our individual spheres of influence.