Energy efficiency is our best hope for a sustainable future
Energy efficiency. It’s the one energy source every country possesses in abundance. It´s the quickest and most affordable way to ensure reliable and sustainable energy for all. What isn´t sexy about saving energy, helping the environment and saving on energy bills?
If you are still not convinced, here´s the kicker: in 2016, the world would have used 12 percent more energy if it hadn´t been for energy efficiency improvements put in place since 2001. This is the equivalent of adding another European Union into the global energy market. Energy efficiency can make a big difference, and there´s never been a better time to start thinking about it.
Advancing sustainable energy
Three weeks ago, I was in Lisbon, Portugal at the Sustainable Energy for All Forum — a global sustainable energy movement that pushes for progress on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 7. At the forum, I saw rooms full of people acting with ambition and determination. I had the great opportunity to talk about how energy efficiency can help advance sustainable energy for all and discuss ways to speed and scale action with other energy leaders.
Today, I want to take my message beyond those four walls and share them directly with you. You need to understand why we need to put energy efficiency at the top of any discussion about clean energy transitions and giving energy access to all.
The cheapest source of energy is the energy you never use. If you don´t consume it, energy doesn’t need to be produced or transported. Renewable energy sources are more popular than ever; and yet, one of the most fundamental problems is that green energy is not produced when and where you need it. That means you need to store or transport it. Bottom line: without efficiency, the potential of renewables alone for a clean energy transition is insufficient.
Energy efficiency remains underutilized because the industry hasn´t been paying enough attention. Look at the numbers. Energy efficiency can contribute to 38 percent of total global CO2 emission reductions by 2050. And the good news is that the technology to make energy more efficient already exists. So, we are ready to make energy efficiency the new normal and complete the transition to green energy. But how, you ask?
Doing more with less
If we want to unlock renewable energy sources´ full potential and extend their benefits, innovative storage solutions are key. They help to harness energy that is produced during off-peak hours. They help to provide energy when renewable solutions aren´t available — when the sun isn´t shining and the wind isn´t blowing. And they help to make the entire energy system much more flexible and reliable. Buildings play a major role in a clean energy transition. Your local supermarket is one of the best examples of how energy storage can provide the required flexibility for renewables. When connected to external thermal networks, such as district heating, smart supermarkets enable renewables to become major energy suppliers in the most effective way possible.
Anyone who has ever put their hand behind their fridge can easily understand this dynamic. Cooling produces a significant amount of heat. And new technology gives supermarkets the ability to capture that heat, store it, and reuse it in their own systems. By connecting the supermarket to the local district heating grid, excess heat can be redistributed to nearby homes and help cut energy costs.
Smart energy systems, like district energy, that allow for thermal storage and can integrate buildings as storage capacity, are key to provide sustainable energy for all. And we don´t have to wait until tomorrow to start applying it. The technology already exists, and it is a hundred times cheaper than using batteries.
Put energy efficiency first
The pathway to a clean and sustainable future is not just about how much wind or solar energy we can produce, but how much we are capable of utilizing. What we need are smart energy systems that can integrate as many renewable energy sources as possible.
Energy efficiency makes the energy system much more flexible and reliable, reduces costs and helps protect our planet. Don’t underestimate the currently available solutions to unlock this potential. We have the technologies to start doing more with less today.
So, I want to take this time to challenge you to put energy efficiency first. Think holistically. Think long-term. Stakes are high for our people and the planet. And remember, the cheapest energy is the one we don´t use.
Jürgen Fischer is President of Danfoss Cooling and Member of the Global Panel on Access to Cooling, part of the Cooling for All initiative