‘Boring’ Energy Efficiency Is Biggest CO2-Cutting Tool

Energy efficiency is the best tool for cutting greenhouse gases and must shed its “boring” image to stimulate spending, the International Energy Agency said.

More than 40 percent of the emissions cuts needed to contain greenhouse gases to safe levels come from measures such as insulation and vehicle and appliance standards, compared with 21 percent from renewables and 8 percent from nuclear power, Philippe Benoit, the agency’s head of energy efficiency, said today in an interview in Bonn, Germany. People need to change their mindset about adopting the measures, he said.

“It’s perceived as boring and intangible, and the combination of the two makes it more difficult to understand,” Benoit said. “It’s much easier for people to understand putting solar panels on their roof and seeing the kilowatt-hours they generate than putting insulation in their home and noting the savings in energy consumption.”

The agency estimates that globally about $300 billion is spent a year on efficiency measures for homes, vehicles, appliances and factories. Under current government policies, investment in efficiency through 2035 is projected to be just a third of what is actually economically viable, Benoit said.

Benoit was in Bonn to attend a week-long round of United Nations climate-treaty talks that end tomorrow. He told delegates that while energy efficiency is often perceived as a “low-hanging fruit,” the difficulty in promoting it made it more like “a big watermelon” that’s hard to lift.

Oil Shock

The planet is on track to warm by more than 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) since the industrial revolution rather than the 2-degree cap that treaty negotiators seek, according to the World Bank. Spending more on efficiency would help close that gap, Benoit said. He said the prominence of global warming has raised the profile of efficiency in a way not seen since the oil shock in the 1970s, “but it’s not yet where it needs to be.”

“A lot of money is being left on the table, and a lot of climate benefits aren’t happening,” Benoit said. “We need to change the mindset on energy efficiency. We need to think about the benefits it brings as if it were a fuel.”

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