There are two complementary visions for a low carbon housing future: building standards that provide thermal efficiency; and building automation and control systems that add smartness. Both share a perception of occupants as preoccupied primarily with cost and aesthetics, deficient in knowledge and environmental concern, and thus unable/unwilling to accept any change in lifestyle. Reducing energy use can thus only be achieved as passively as possible or with fully automated systems.
This narrow vision is much questioned nowadays. Material aspects are complemented by social insights into how we live in our homes – enter sociocultural sciences in energy policy design.
You could think that the device with the highest energy efficiency is the most difficult to improve. However, this is not always true. Even if the energy efficiency of a device is already high, it can be worth considering further improvements. And because power transformers are nearly continuously loaded, the smallest efficiency gain adds up to a substantial saving at the end of the year.
Lessons to be learned include careful design to develop super-efficient transformers, loading considerations, power quality issues (particularly harmonics), asset management, lifecycle costing in regulated networks, and recycling practices, to name a few.
The reason why the classic ‘technico-economic’ approach is not working optimally is because investments in energy efficiency result in more than a reduction of energy consumption. They also lead to a variety of non-energy benefits.
These include improved product quality, reduced production time, improved health and well-being, reduced environmental footprint etc.
Integrating the multiple energy and non-energy benefits of energy efficiency significantly improves the business case of energy-efficiency investments in the business sector by raising their strategic and financial attractiveness.
That may be so, but according to independent climate change think tank E3G (June 2018), the geographical distribution of energy efficiency investments has been almost exclusively focused in Northern Europe: ‘85% of energy efficiency investments have been in France, the UK, Finland and Germany. This imbalance is striking, completely omitting Member States where energy saving potentials are highest and private investment is sparse, such as CEE countries.’
Vice versa, the aim for energy self-sufficiency is not only motivated by energy security, but also to avoid money from leaving the country. This provides an additional motivation for European countries to actively support the energy transition. Not only does it help to decarbonise the world, it is also a way to exploit local energy resources that would otherwise be lost and improve the national balance sheet. This macro-economic advantage is not expressed enough in the discussions about the energy transition.