Rodney Dangerfield is famous for his line, “I don’t get no respect.” It’s not that energy efficiency doesn’t get any respect at all, but it’s clear that it doesn’t get the full coordinated attention it deserves.
A recent report published by the World Economic Forum (WEF) titled Energy Efficiency: Accelerating the Agenda starts with the assumption that the world can’t continue to grow its use of energy at the current rate. Energy demand is projected to increase 40% by 2050. The capital that would be required to meet projected energy demand through to 2030 is a cumulative $26 trillion. That’s almost twice the GDP of the United States. The report quotes US Energy Secretary Steven Chu as saying, “Energy efficiency is not just low-hanging fruit; it is fruit that is lying on the ground.” However, the report’s premise is that capturing this “low hanging fruit” is not as easy as some assume.
My colleagues at Pike Research and I have written in our reports and on our blogs of the many financial, policy-related, and structural barriers to achieving the potential of energy efficiency. Compared to the WEF report, however, we’ve been pointing out minor impediments. The report lays out some real big-picture roadblocks.
- ”Institutional and market failures are preventing the private sector from implementing and investing in energy efficiency at scale.”
- ”Energy efficiency initiatives are not yet mainstream in all sectors and developing the investment case for efficiency projects at scale remains difficult.”
- “While they are independently taking various steps, the public and private sectors are not recognizing and acting on each other’s needs effectively.”
- “Policy is not always being implemented. The International Energy Agency (IEA) points out that of its 25 policy recommendations only 57% have been fully implemented.”
So why is so much fruit still on those low branches, or even lying on the ground? The WEF report boils much of that list of macro factors into a couple of basic statements.
- Businesses and consumers need more incentives to invest in energy efficiency.
- Companies and individuals tend to invest in assets and products they can see, feel and touch, which energy efficiency is not. They have other investment opportunities that are more tangible.
The WEF report recommends three areas of near term activity for a public-private energy efficiency initiative.
- “Develop a comprehensive energy efficiency ecosystem within and across the main emitter countries by developing a platform that brings together key public, private, and expert actors from across the value chain to co-design scalable projects, programmes and policy enablers as well as common metrics and standards.”
- “Create a set of action-oriented private sector networks within some key industry sectors, each focused on developing a set of specific actions during 2011 and delivering on them, so as to create a step change in energy efficiency outcomes within their particular sector.”
- “A public-private initiative led by international organizations/NGOs and academia to develop for the corporate sector during 2011 a set of harmonized international standards on measurement and reporting for energy efficiency that can sit alongside carbon emissions reporting.”
Now, not to demean the good efforts of some very well meaning and hardworking people (and those consultants who came up with the wording for those three bullet points), but I’d guess that many people find it quite difficult to relate to the kinds of big picture recommendations that come out of Switzerland based international organizations. Europe certainly has been able to take many such programs to heart and create frameworks for them through the European Union, though implementation success at the national level varies greatly. However, here in the US and throughout most of the rest of the world, we’re not sure what to make of these kinds of initiatives.
Will the US government be a willing party to these efforts? Will the developing nations such as China, India, and Brazil participate as full partners, or look for ways to justify exemptions? How many of the major multinational companies in those “key industry sectors” will put resources into creating and supporting “action-oriented private sector networks”?
So, I sit here conflicted. Do I support these global efforts but not know what to do about them other than say, “I support you?” Or, do I wish the folks in Geneva well and continue about my business, fighting in the trenches, so to speak, for energy efficiency? The way I worded those choices leaves me the option to do both, so both it is.
In the meantime, I leave you with the wisdom of Rodney Dangerfield’s father who, unknowingly, long ago foretold of global warming. Rodney recalls that “I asked my old man if I could go ice skating on the lake. He told me, ‘Wait til it gets warmer.’”