The World's Number One Fuel Source Isn't Even a Fuel
Sheryl Carter, Co-Director, Energy Program, San Francisco
The first ever Energy Efficiency Market Report was just released by the International Energy Agency, and it clearly illustrates for the 11 countries* it examined that between 1974 and 2010, energy efficiency was the largest energy resource. In 2010, alone, (the most recent year for which data is available) savings from energy efficiency was greater than the output from any other single fuel source – including coal, oil, nuclear and gas. Who knew?
We already knew from a recently released NRDC report that energy efficiency – stretching our energy dollars to do more with less-- is America’s greatest energy resource. And that despite it being our most productive and cost-effective resource, we keep forgetting it is a resource just like coal and oil but so much cleaner in terms of our air. (Efficiency isn’t even included on the list of the “all of the above” energy strategies being discussed in most public discourse.) This isn’t just an American phenomenon, but a global one that the IEA refers to as the “hidden fuel…hiding in plain sight.”
Photo of thermal imaging showing energy loss by iied.org, under Creative Commons
The IEA report makes a number of other very eye-opening findings with regard to energy efficiency, including:
- There is a huge economic opportunity to do more globally, and we aren’t even close to tapping it. Two-thirds of the economic potential to improve energy savings and cut its waste (in industry, transport, power generation and buildings) remains untapped in the period to 2035.
- Investments in energy efficiency (and remember, it costs less than any other resource) are comparable to renewables and fossil power generation investments – totaling $300 billion in 2011. But investments in energy efficiency are still less than two-thirds of the level of fossil fuel subsidies.
- There are tremendous benefits at stake. Efficiency measures implemented from 2005-2010 saved the energy equivalent of $420 billion worth of oil. Consumers in those 11 countries would have consumed (and paid for) two-thirds more energy than they currently use.
- Efficiency had a larger effect on restraining energy growth than any structural changes in the economy. Energy use between 1990 and 2010 increased by only 0.5% per year.
The report also found that effective policies (necessary because of fuel subsidies, high transaction costs, information failures and a lack of institutional capacity) had a great deal to do with stimulating the energy efficiency market. These policies include efficiency standards and labeling, access to energy-saving information and financing, and energy efficiency standards on utilities.
Given its vast untapped potential and enormous benefits, we should not allow the world’s #1 fuel source to remain hidden anymore.
* The 11 countries IEA examined are: Australia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States.
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