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Conserving energy is a critical part of meeting climate targets

The Economist Intelligence Unit publishes energy efficiency study sponsored by Rexel.


A new report by The Economist Intelligence Unit, titled “Driving energy efficiency: A comparison of five mature markets” finds that governments are paying closer attention to energy conservation programmes as part of meeting carbon emission reduction targets. The report, sponsored by Rexel, cites International Energy Agency research showing that in 2030, energy efficiency will account for 49% of global greenhouse gas reduction initiatives.

The report, based on desk research and interviews with independent experts, considers efficiency initiatives in five industrialised countries: the UK, US, Canada, Germany and France.

The initiatives fall into three main categories:

  • Increasing access to information on energy use and ways to reduce it;
  • Offering incentives in the form of grants, loans or tax breaks for upgrades;
  • Supporting or directly providing energy-use labelling and ratings systems for products and for buildings.

The successful adoption of energy efficiency requires an array of initiatives by a range of players the report finds, namely the combined commitment of government, citizens and the business community. However, the initiatives put in place must take into consideration the reasons for resistance, as the barriers to adoption differ depending on the profile of the energy user or investor.

In private accommodation and workplaces, for example, both landlords (investors) and tenants (energy users) must share the benefits as well as the costs of the upgrades, in order to boost the energy efficiency of buildings, according to the report, which notes “…the energy-savings technologies must be joined to gains-sharing schemes that incentivise both tenants and owners to conserve energy.”

Incentives and tax breaks are critical, but the importance of access to the right information at the right time should not be underestimated. Ensuring homeowners, building owners and energy users have access to the information they need to manage their energy use is a pre-requisite to achieving energy conservation success. Patricia Fuller, director-general of the Office of Energy Efficiency at Natural Resources Canada, is quoted saying: “Many consumers and businesses are interested in reducing their energy use, but low awareness of options available to them slows down adoption of energy efficiency solutions more broadly.”

Advances in digital technology, such as smart meters, and the growing use of smartphone apps and social media are also increasingly relevant in the move to a low-energy economy.

The report also points out that labelling programmes providing information on how much energy an appliance uses, have been shown to be helpful to consumers and businesses seeking to conserve energy. “Such labels give consumers important signals to guide their purchasing decisions,” the report highlights.

Similarly, buildings certified as energy efficient can help to guide the decisions of investors – both private individuals and business owners – by providing an “easy-to-understand benchmark of the energy performance of the… buildings in which they live and work.”

However, the report also points to certain risks that need to be mitigated, most notably in what has been labelled the ‘rebound effect’. While promoting investment in energy efficiency, governments have identified a risk in the ‘rebound effect’, in which consumers—encouraged by greater energy efficiency of appliances—purchase more gadgets that drive up their overall energy use.

> For more details about the various public sector approaches to energy efficiency, download the full report