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Harnessing Energy Efficiency to Overcome a Bleak World Energy Outlook


December 20, 2012 - 9:52am
By Sara Hayes, Senior Manager and Researcher, Policy and Utilities

Last month the International Energy Agency (IEA) released its World Energy Outlook 2012 and unfortunately the world outlook is not so good. To be more precise, a key conclusion of the report is that “Taking all new developments and policies into account, the world is still failing to put the global energy system onto a more sustainable path.” The report forecasts dramatic increases in global energy consumption and found that subsidies for fossil fuels increased by almost 30% from 2010, amounting to $523 billion in 2011. All of this in spite of a long-term global effort to find a solution to climate change. 

Unfortunately, this version of the future doesn’t depart much from what we’ve seen in the past. Certainly there are new findings, but a future where global energy consumption increases dramatically as China, India, and other non-OECD countries develop has been on the horizon for a while. However, the really critical findings in this latest version of the Outlook relate to an opportunity for global leaders to take control of this future by balancing the world’s energy needs with sustainable energy consumption.

The solution?  Energy efficiency.

The Outlook finds that in a future where economically viable energy efficiency measures are implemented, the rate of energy demand growth is halved. The report goes on to describe six areas that need to be addressed if we are going to put all this energy efficiency to work. (The Alliance to Save Energy has also created this helpful fact sheet). IEA recommends raising people’s awareness of energy efficiency and improving its visibility and credibility. The report suggests that improved testing, disclosure, monitoring, and verification would help. The report also observes that there is an uneven playing field in energy markets contributing to a perception that energy efficiency isn’t affordable. To overcome these barriers, the IEA suggests policies to eliminate energy subsidies that encourage consumption and the adoption of policies that incentivize energy efficiency investments.

These steps can help world leaders move our collective futures in the right direction. And as the report points out, without a significant change in business-as-usual, most of the energy efficiency potential in the buildings sector and more than half of the potential in industry will continue to be wasted and we’ll lose the race to meet our climate goals. My takeaway from the World Energy Outlook 2012: It’s time to harness energy efficiency and take the reins of our future.