With a national think tank positioning energy efficiency as a kind of “all-of-the-above” strategy to deliver lower home energy bills, boost business productivity, and cut pollution, the industry’s newly-minted trade association is embarking on an initial campaign to help energy efficiency companies and professionals see their own place in the sector.
In their opinion piece last week for National Observer, Joanna Kyriazis and Merran Smith of Clean Energy Canada point to the pollution-fighting, cost-cutting, and wider economic benefits of energy efficiency initiatives that are already baked into the pan-Canadian climate strategy. But in an interview with The Energy Mix last month, Efficiency Canada Executive Director Corey Diamond said the first step in bringing the industry to its full potential is for the various professions and disciplines involved to see themselves as part of a wider energy efficiency community.
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For decades, energy efficiency has been recognized as an economic and job creation dynamo, the most affordable way to meet the need for different kinds of energy services, and the first step in any serious decarbonization effort—because the more energy you save, the less you have to produce, from renewable sources or not. Greentech Media reported last year that the energy it takes to deliver a unit of economic activity had fallen 40% in developing countries, 28% across the OECD, and 32% overall since 1990, citing figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. And The Energy Mix subscriber Ralph Torrie reached much the same conclusion by 2011, noting that “we’re not even close to fully exploiting a vast resource that is limited only by the scope of human ingenuity”.
The starting points are in the current pan-Canadian plan, Kyriazis and Smith write, citing the Trudeau government’s efforts to boost the efficiency of new buildings, encourage energy retrofits in existing structures, set higher efficiency standards for appliances and equipment, and support efficiency initiatives in Indigenous communities and industrial facilities.
“More recently, we’ve seen the introduction of additional programs to retrofit homes, schools, community organizations, and affordable housing developments,” they write. “These will seriously help reduce pollution while also helping Canadian homes and businesses save on energy costs—with real economic benefits to boot.”
The combined menu of efficiency measures is expected to reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by 50 million tonnes, save the average household C$114 per year, save businesses $3.2 billion by 2030, and increase GDP by $356 billion (or 1%) between 2017 and 2030. “Energy efficiency may not draw as much attention as other policy solutions, but make no mistake,” they write. “It’s one of the most important—and certainly most cost-effective—ways to upgrade Canada for the future.”
It’s much the same argument Efficiency Canada hopes to make in its effort to get an “essentially invisible” industry “on the radar of the public and policy-makers,” Diamond said.” We started from the premise that if you look at energy efficiency and treat it as a resource, as something you have to dig up out of the ground, we know it can contribute up to 40% of our energy needs in Canada.”
Efficiency Canada set out to make that case by helping some of the 436,000 Canadians with jobs in the industry tell their stories. But before long, “we started to realize that most people who work in energy efficiency don’t consider themselves a part of the sector or self-identify as an energy efficiency worker.” For people employed by small businesses across the country, designing buildings or delivering custom orders for heat pumps or energy-efficient furnaces, “it’s part of what they do. But when they go to a cocktail party over the weekend, they don’t necessarily identify themselves as part of the energy efficiency sector.”
So as an early step in shifting public perceptions and policies, the association launched its Our Human Energy campaign last month, to help the energy efficiency work force recognize its own role in delivering an essential solution.
“We want to give them the opportunity to be proud of what they do, to stand up and say ‘I’m helping this hospital save so much money it can get an MRI machine, or helping this school be a more comfortable place for kids to learn,’” Diamond told The Mix. “Over time, as people start to join the movement, see the benefits, and see themselves as part of that solution, we can start mobilizing to get the message out to policy-makers.”
Like the recent U.S. survey that found renewable energy and energy efficiency jobs in every zip code, Diamond stressed that energy efficiency in Canada is much more than a regional economic sector.
“It doesn’t exist in just one part of the country,” he said. “It’s in every single community and province, and it’s made up of a lot of small businesses. So what we imagine one day is for different elected officials and policy-makers to understand that there’s a small business helping people save money, save energy, make homes more comfortable, and they should go check out what they do. Then over time, as policies are developed or decisions are made about government support for energy efficiency, the people making those decisions know who those decisions affect, and that a lot of small businesses across this country are delivering real economic value to Canadians.”
Diamond added that energy efficiency is where governments’ focus on economic development and the imperative for climate action come together.
“You’ve got a lot of people working in a sector that has massive potential to grow, and is already growing at three times the rate of the rest of the economy,” he said. “So this is a massive economic development policy we’re asking for, knowing that a few changes to support that growth will yield so much more activity.”
But raising the profile of energy efficiency and its potential is the first step in getting those changes in place.
“The oil and gas sector has done a very good job of that, telling the stories of the workers behind it to show [decision-makers] that these are real people who their policies affect,” Diamond said. “This is no different. We’re saying energy efficiency is something to be proud of, it has real Canadian expertise to it, and it’s not just HVAC [heating, ventilating and air conditioning] contractors. It’s engineers and architects and tech entrepreneurs and financiers. It’s so diverse and touches so many industries and sectors, and all of those stories need to be told.”
As that realization takes hold, “we’ll be able to mobilize this sector strategically when we need to, and not just reactively” when a counterproductive policy is put in place. “We’ll be able to move pro-actively and get this in front of people so that those [negative] decisions are never made.”