Global energy intensity fell three times faster in 2015 than it did in 2013, but the International Energy Agency (IEA) says efficiency must still make a bigger contribution to the effort to fight climate change.
“It’s becoming increasingly clear that energy efficiency needs to be central in energy policies,” said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol. “All of the core imperatives of energy policy—reducing energy bills, decarbonization, air pollution, energy security, and energy access—are made more attainable if led by strong energy efficiency policy.”
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“We call energy efficiency the first fuel,” added the IEA’s Brian Motherway. “Some countries have sun, some have oil, some have wind, but all countries have energy efficiency resources.”
Global energy efficiency investment exceeded US$220 billion last year—about 66% more than the total investment in new generating capacity, Bloomberg notes. But the IEA believes the 1.8% decline in energy intensity (defined as energy consumption per unit of gross domestic product) in 2015 must increase to 2.6% per year to hit the 2030 targets flowing from the Paris Agreement.
To make that happen, Motherway said, “we need to improve by 50%, and we need to do so immediately.”
Greentech notes that much of the energy efficiency improvement in recent years traces back to China, which accounted for about half of energy demand growth from 2000 to 2015 but reduced its energy intensity 30% over the same period. “The most recent five-year plan has only strengthened those goals, with a target for energy intensity to be 44% below 2005 targets by 2020,” writes Greentech’s Katherine Tweed. “Most of the savings are expected to come from the continued shift from heavy industry to a service-based economy.”
By contrast, “in Brazil, India, Mexico, and Indonesia, only a fraction of total energy consumption is covered by efficiency standards. But there has still been significant progress since 2000, according to the IEA, when India and Brazil had no energy efficiency regulations.”
Bloomberg adds that efficiency gains over the last couple of years “came in spite of cheaper fossil fuels,” driven by government efficiency regulations for vehicles, buildings, and appliances. “The IEA estimated its 29 member countries saved enough energy between 2000 and 2015 to power all of Japan for a year, or 450 million tons of oil equivalent.” But “the institution says even those gains aren’t enough to curb global warming.”
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