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Time to Reinvent the Idea of Energy Efficiency, European Expert Says

Energy efficiency—using less energy to accomplish the same output—has long been championed as an effective way to cut emissions/ But the climate crisis now demands a carbon-cutting strategy where fuel conversion, not conservation, takes top priority, says an expert.

“You could try to squeeze out more efficiency out of a petrol or diesel car, or you could simply make the switch to fully electric,” said Jan Rosenow, director of European programs for the Regulatory Assistance Project.

Rosenow isn’t making a new argument, writes Inside Climate News. What he is doing, however, is making it far more urgently than it has been made before.

Citing the incremental emission cuts the United States electricity sector has achieved by building more high-efficiency natural gas plants as one example, Rosenow warns in an Energy Research & Social Science essay that small gains aren’t enough if the goal is to hit zero emissions as rapidly as possible.

“And that goal is not some lark,” writes Inside Climate. “Getting to near-zero emissions is essential for protecting human life from the effects of climate change, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and many others.”

Again, while Rosenow’s thinking isn’t new (a 2015 Stanford paper concluded “energy efficiency outcomes must be integrated with a carbon reduction framework”), it is “a sweeping argument that would reshape the government offices that oversee energy incentive programs, and the companies and individuals for whom the burning of fossil fuels is interwoven into daily life,” Inside Climate states.

Rosenow says government and private sector managers delivering energy efficiency programs are “asleep at the wheel”. Pointing to the plummeting costs of solar, in particular, he concludes that both climate and economics are on the side of fuel conversion: “It’s cheaper to decarbonize the supply than to reduce demand,” he asserts.

But in the U.S., at any rate, fuel conversion laws and programs “are swimming against a tide of industry lobbying that works to preserve market share for fossil fuels,” Inside Climate says.