Energy efficiency brings a variety of benefits: reducing greenhouse gas emissions, reducing demand for energy imports and lowering our costs, at household and economy-wide levels. While renewable energy technologies also help accomplish these objectives, improving energy efficiency is the cheapest and often most immediate way to reduce the use of fossil fuels. There are enormous opportunities to improve efficiency in every sector of the economy, whether that’s buildings, transportation, industry or energy generation.
Building designers are looking to optimise the efficiency of their buildings and then incorporate renewable energy technologies, leading to the creation of zero-energy buildings. Changes in existing buildings that can also reduce energy usage and costs may include small steps like choosing LED light bulbs and energy-efficient appliances, or larger efforts, such as upgrading insulation and weatherising structures.
Combined heat and power systems capture the “waste” heat from power plants and use it to provide heating, cooling, and/or hot water to nearby buildings and facilities. This increases the energy efficiency of power generation from approximately 33 per cent to up to 80 per cent. The smart grid is another system that will improve the efficiency of electric generation, distribution, and consumption.
Research has shown that 30 per cent of the potential energy savings of high efficiency technologies is lost due to a variety of social, cultural and economic factors. Addressing these factors is also an important component of the drive to make our economy more energy efficient
Neighbourhoods that are designed with mixed-use developments and safe, accessible options for walking, cycling and public transportation are crucial to reducing the need to travel using personal vehicles.
Vehicles with greater energy-efficient require less fuel to cover a given distance. This reduces emissions and also makes such vehicles significantly cheaper to operate. Plug-in hybrids and fully electric vehicles are particularly fuel-efficient.
Freight can be transported more efficiently by improving the efficiency of rail and road transportation and by shifting long-distance freight transport from road to rail.
The four strategies above improve energy efficiency primarily through technology and design. However, the way people use these technologies influences their effectiveness significantly. What impact can a highly efficient technology have if households and businesses are not motivated to buy, install, and/or activate it? How does driving behaviour and unnecessary idling impact on fuel consumption? How many people will use public transport if there is a cultural stigma against it? Research has shown that 30 per cent of the potential energy savings of high-efficiency technologies is lost due to a variety of social, cultural and economic factors. Addressing these factors is also an important component of the drive to make our economy more energy-efficient.