Steve Fawkes on #energyefficiency: “Most energy efficiency policy does not work”

https://twitter.com/DrSteveFawkes/status/643102845588373504

[It] seems to me that we [the UK] need an energy policy that … has to be based on three pillars:

  1. driving the maximum adoption of cost-effective energy efficiency projects throughout the economy.
  2. explore for shale gas and where it is available and proves to be cheap to extract (not yet proven) do so using the highest levels of environmental protection.
  3. increase energy R&D support for technologies that will reduce the cost of renewables, energy storage and efficiency

I put energy efficiency first for the obvious reason it has always been the Cinderella of energy policy, often mentioned by politicians and others who usually say at the end of speeches “and don’t forget about efficiency”, but then proceed to only focus on supply options. We know there is a massive economic potential for improving efficiency even at current low energy prices, we have recently realized that efficiency also brings with it many non-energy benefits including better productivity, better health, improved revenue and job creation. Valuing these benefits properly which still isn’t usually done, only serves to improve the already attractive returns from investing in energy efficiency. European energy policy now talks about “efficiency first” but the UK does not yet get this change.

In order to accelerate energy efficiency we also need to face some more hard facts, although efficiency has provided more energy services over the last forty years than any other energy source (surprising but true), most energy efficiency policy does not work. It is based on exhortation and regulation – trying to make people do something that a) fundamentally does not have a great selling proposition (saving money alone just isn’t enough), b) is totally boring to most people most (all?) of the time c) is beset by jargon and d) is difficult to measure and invest in. We need to realistically address these issues and move away from the last forty years of energy efficiency policy which were based largely on exhortation and regulation and towards a system of aligned incentives that truly encourage people to improve efficiency – finally putting efficiency first.

I think that:

  • There is substance to at least the first three of Mr Fawkes’ points…
  • … But if “incentives” means “financial incentives”, the evidence is that these have to be pretty high to induce us as citizens/consumers to do things that anyway save us money – incentives are an essential part, but can’t be the whole, of energy policy
  • Energy efficiency is nevertheless increasing; policy has to do with this; we need to understand, better, how

Published by

Paul Hodson

Head of Unit "EnergyEfficiency" at European Commission, Directorate-General for Energy

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