13 January 2015
Energy Efficiency: A Field of Opportunity for the G20
UN Photo/Kibae Park/Sipa Press
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For the very first time the G20 Heads of State have called for more international collaboration on energy efficiency.

Why is the call so timely and relevant, and why is the G20 showing a strong interest in energy efficiency – this “hidden fuel” of the energy mix – at this point in time?

For the very first time the G20 Heads of State have called for more international collaboration on energy efficiency. Why is the call so timely and relevant, and why is the G20 showing a strong interest in energy efficiency – this “hidden fuel” of the energy mix – at this point in time?

The field of energy efficiency includes the policies, techniques and measures that allow services (mobility, communication, lighting, engines, heating, cooling, refrigeration, etc.) to be delivered with fewer energy resources. This is, indeed, a wide field with numerous examples. Considering only a couple, a large share of new cars sold today consume less than half of the fuel of a similar-sized car manufactured just five years ago. New buildings, both residential and commercial, can be – and increasingly, are – designed to consume four to ten times less energy than buildings constructed only twenty years ago. The last generation of television sets using organic light emitting diode (OLED) screens not only provides the brightest of colors and ultrahigh definition but also consumes a fraction of the electricity compared to cathode ray tube or plasma display technology. Smart management of street lighting combined with LED can easily reduce the energy bills in municipalities worldwide by 50% while enhancing night-time quality of life and improving the security of the population.

More importantly, whenever energy efficiency is promoted through appropriate policies, significant energy savings are generated. A recent study prepared for the World Energy Council assessed that without past energy efficiency improvements, G20 countries would be consuming 32% more energy today, making energy efficiency the significant but “hidden fuel” of the current energy mix.

Despite past efforts and successes, the potential for energy efficiency remains largely untapped. Energy services are the lifeblood in every economy and are at the very heart of economic and human development. Energy is needed to sustain economic growth in developed countries but is even more crucial to support emerging and developing economies. At the same time, conventional energy resources are not unlimited and still account for more than 80% of the world’s energy supply. They also come with an environmental penalty that can no longer be ignored. Climate change is certainly the most challenging of these since the burning of fossil fuel generates 60% of the world greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Lower bills and a cleaner environment are just two of the multiple benefits of energy efficiency. A recent report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) also highlights job creation, enhanced energy security, improved industrial productivity and asset values.

In view of the growing demand for energy, energy efficiency should be seen as a much needed fuel. But energy efficiency cannot be the sole energy policy. To reach its full potential, energy efficiency needs to be better integrated into key sector policies such as transport, industry, city planning, construction and agriculture. As such, energy efficiency requires special attention and is thus fully recognized by this year’s G20 declaration through the Energy Efficiency Action Plan. Australia’s presidency this year with the support of France and Mexico placed a greater priority on energy efficiency than the G20 has seen before. This reflects the acceptance of the many benefits that improved energy efficiency provides. I have no doubt that during Turkey’s presidency the importance of Energy Efficiency will be stressed even more.

International dialogue through G20 members can help to define and support the deployment of energy efficiency policies at the national level. For instance, international collaboration helps to identify the best policy practices and most promising energy-efficient techniques or systems; and can accelerate exchange in policy design or project implementation, coordinate actions in a given sector or energy system, and create awareness of the importance of enhanced energy efficiency that will have a positive impact at national, regional and local levels.

The deployment of renewable energy is benefiting from the support of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), which was created only a few years ago. The world nuclear industry is supported by several international organizations such as the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) within the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) within the UN System. Investment in fusion power has become possible because of ITER, a unique international coalition. Even carbon capture and storage (CCS), a great hope in lowering energy-related GHG emissions is being coordinated through such initiatives as the Global CCS Institute. The International Partnership for Energy Efficiency Cooperation (IPEEC) is already active at the international level and ready to support the G20 in order to ensure that the Brisbane call for energy efficiency is not only fully heard but transformed into concrete activities. The G20 call to encourage further international collaboration on energy efficiency comes with a series of concrete work streams that target key sectors like buildings, networked appliances, heavy-duty vehicles and power generation, as well as collaboration with financial institutions.

The importance of improved energy efficiency is increasingly being heard. Most recently, the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, expressed his view on its importance at the Climate Summit he hosted in September 2014 in New York, US. With increasing globalization, the successful articulation and implementation of energy efficiency in the G20 countries will go well beyond the borders of the G20 community for the greater benefit of global low-carbon and sustainable development.

Santiago Creuheras, Chairman of IPEEC’s Policy Committee (www.ipeec.org)

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