Energy efficiency pales in terms of its appeal against renewables and some of the other exciting developments in today’s energy sector. This is unfortunate given its essential role in moving towards a more sustainable energy system.
In fact evidence is emerging that combining energy efficiency with renewables deployment brings synergies that benefit both. In an analysis published by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) of the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All) initiative in selected countries, the combined potential of the technologies is found to be able to reduce the total primary energy demand by up to 25% compared to business as usual in 2030.
Through the accelerated deployment of renewable energy technologies alone, with only autonomous improvements of energy efficiency, a reduction of 5-10% in energy intensity by 2030 is projected.
The IRENA analysis covers China, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Italy, UK and US, which together cover half of global energy use.
Doubling renewables and energy efficiency improvements
The goals of SE4All include a doubling in the share of renewables in the global energy mix and a doubling in the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency by 2030, in addition to the overarching universal access by 2030. [Engerati-Towards Sustainable Energy For All By 2030]
The synergies arise in that a number of technologies both offer savings in primary energy demand and also increase the share of renewable energy in the energy mix.
For example, biomass for cooking and heating accounts for 9% of global energy consumption but is an inefficient form of energy. Replacing this traditional use of biomass with modern and efficient forms of cooking and heating helps to raise the share of modern renewable energy, improves the energy efficiency of cooking and contributes to the delivery of modern energy access.
Another example is electric vehicles, which achieve about three times the efficiency compared to internal combustion engines. If the power required for electric motors is generated from renewable energy sources, they represent an important enabling technology option for a transition to renewable electricity and contribute to a reduction in energy consumed for an equivalent level of energy services.
Heat pumps are another, with air-to-air heat pumps about three times as efficient as conventional boilers and geothermal heat pumps even more efficient. If the power required by heat pumps is supplied by renewables, it is also an enabling technology option for a transition to renewable electricity.
Other technologies and approaches also provide synergies. For example decentralized renewables and energy efficiency can be combined through various demand response, smart grid and intermediate energy storage systems. A decentralised renewable energy system also can contribute to behavioural changes, by making consumers more aware of the importance of not wasting energy and hence more sensitive to the notion of energy efficiency.
Renewables and energy efficiency simultaneously
Among the conclusions of the study are that renewable technologies and efficiency measures to reduce power demand will play the key role in both total energy savings and realizing higher shares of renewables in the countries. Indeed realization of accelerated renewable energy potential alone is not sufficient to achieve either of the two SE4All objectives. Although some countries could achieve a doubling of their energy efficiency improvement rate through energy efficiency measures alone, it is not possible to achieve a doubling of the renewable energy share through renewable energy deployment alone.
There is also a potential trade-off between improvements in energy efficiency that reduce overall energy demand, and renewables, since energy efficiency measures could potentially reduce the demand for new renewable energy capacity as well, and thereby limit absolute deployment levels.
The study also finds that in order to meet the SE4All renewables and energy efficiency objectives in the analyzed regions, an estimated US$700 billion per year on average is required between 2012 and 2030, with 55% of the total investments related to energy efficiency measures and 45% related to renewables.