First in our Homes and Hearts: IEA report positions Energy Efficiency as crucial Net-Zero driver

June 8, 2022
Current policy is not moving fast enough: Fully activating energy efficiency technologies could reduce CO2 emissions by an additional five gigatons per year just by 2030, according to the report. Buildings account for about 28 percent of global emissions

Making the journey to Net Zero over coming decades will be impossible without the first fuel just waiting to be effectively used in commercial buildings, residences and industrial plants, experts say.

First fuel is a key term for energy efficiency technologies, such as electrification of buildings, industrial plants and the transportation sector. Together those three sectors account for a majority of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions, so improving delivery without expanding power generation capacity or air pollution is of the greatest urgency, according to a new report by the International Energy Agency.

Doubling the current rate of energy intensity improvement is crucial to achieving IEA Net Zero goals by 2050, the agency report says. Efficiency measures could tamp down demand 5 percent while still serving an economy 40 percent larger.

“Achieving this hinges on a global push on energy efficiency and related avoided energy demand measures including electrification, behavior change, digitalization and material efficiency in industry,” the IEA report reads. “Slower action would lock in higher energy consumption for years to come.”

Fully activating energy efficiency technologies could reduce CO2 emissions by an additional five gigatons per year just by 2030, according to the report. Energy use in buildings accounts for about 28 percent of global emissions.

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See the full IEA report on Energy Efficiency

The IEA says that doing so isn’t just an intangible, lofty goal for the future. It's a bottom-line benefit available now: The near-term energy savings could lower household bills by at least $650 billion annually, compared with current policies.

And scaling up these kind of energy efficiency, lighting, HVAC and digitalization improvements would support an extra 10 million jobs in sectors such as new construction, building retrofits, manufacturing and transportation, according to the IEA.

The proof is in the recent past, it adds.

“Energy efficiency gains have already made a large contribution to constraining the growth in greenhouse gas emissions,” the IEA says. “Without the global energy intensity gains of the last two decades, emissions growth would have been almost double, or about 8 gigatons (GT) per year higher in 2019.

The pendulum, however, is swinging the other way despite massive efforts in carbon reduction. Global energy-related CO2 emissions rose by two gigatons to 36 GT total in 2021, reversing the COVID-era declines of the previous year.

“The cleanest, cheapest, most reliable source of energy is what countries can avoid using, while still providing full energy services for citizens,” the report reads. “That is why the IEA refers to energy efficiency as the “first fuel”. Without early action on efficiency the energy transition to net zero emissions will be more expensive and much more difficult to achieve.”

By 2030, the IEA forecasts, nearly a third of avoided energy demand can come from deployment of better and more efficient equipment for buildings, such as new-generation air conditioners. Electrification can deliver 20 percent of improvement, through replacing fossil-fired boilers with more efficient and electric heat pumps, for example.

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(Rod Walton, senior editor for EnergyTech, is a 14-year veteran of covering the energy industry both as a newspaper and trade journalist. He can be reached at [email protected]).

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