Energy efficiency is top priority for meeting emissions reduction targets

Energy efficiency should be the main short term objective to meeting emissions reduction targets, a conference of delegates at the Energy and Environment Ministerial Roundtable in London heard this week.

Addressing Ministers from the top 20 energy using countries, UK Chancellor Gordon Brown said that well designed policies in the field of energy efficiency could stimulate innovation and improve productivity while cutting emissions.

“The evidence shows that in the UK most businesses and public sector organisations could easily achieve up to 20% reductions in their energy bills in short payback periods, often without any capital investment at all, which in turn would have a positive effect on profitability and competitiveness,” Mr Brown told delegates.

He voiced his ambition to make British businesses world class in their energy efficiency performance, but pointed out that the Energy Efficiency Review had found a clear market failure in this country and that profitable, cost-saving measures are currently going to waste.

“In most of our economy and in most of our public sector we continue to buy and sell energy rather than energy services – the heat, light and power which are the real outputs,” he said, announcing that the Treasury would host a summit in the coming year to explore ways to remove barriers to the development of the energy services markets in the UK. He added that, during the UK presidency of the EU later this year, he wanted energy efficiency and productivity to be a principal focus.

Mr Brown’s comments on efficiency were echoed by Claude Mandil, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency. He stressed that, while Ministers discussed various technology and policy options for future energy production, energy efficiency is immediately available at very little cost but with enormous benefits, both for the short term and as a long term policy option.

Despite this, he said, progress on energy efficiency had actually slowed over time and stronger policy settings to overcome rising energy demand should be a priority for all governments.

“Mitigating carbon emissions is a daunting task,” Mr Mandil said. “There is no single solution or ‘silver bullet’ available. A mixture of technologies will be needed and technology development and deployment will play a key role. However, energy efficiency is immediately available and governments must act now.”

The extent of the challenge ahead for mitigating carbon emissions was highlighted when Liu Jiang, Vice Chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission of China, presented some points about China’s energy future.

Currently, 67% of primary energy consumption in China comes from coal, he said, and, due to restrictions of market availability and market scale, China will continue consuming a huge amount of coal.

“These facts lead to relatively high intensity of carbon in China’s energy structure and make it more difficult for us to slow down the growth momentum of carbon emission,” Mr Jiang said. The current per capita energy consumption levels are already high in China and are expected to top a global, historic high when it reaches the development level of industrialised nations.

As Mr Jiang said: “China’s energy efficiency remains low. We have an onerous task to improve energy efficiency.”

As one of the world’s largest, fastest growing economies, the world can only hope that this onerous task goes some way to being achieved.

By David Hopkins

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