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IEA champions efficiency as new fuel source

The International Energy Agency (IEA) is championing energy efficiency as a major new fuel with huge potential to cut carbon emissions, as well as pollution, whilst providing cost effective energy security, writes Damon Evans

“Simply put the cleanest megawatt hour will be the one we never need and the most secure barrel of oil the one we never burn,” Maria van der Hoeven, executive director of the IEA said at WEC 2013. “Energy efficiency has been called a 'hidden fuel', yet it is hiding in plain sight,” she added.

Energy efficiency markets deliver goods and services that reduce the energy needed to fuel our economies. “Indeed, the degree of global investment in energy efficiency and the resulting energy savings are so massive that they beg the following question: is energy efficiency not just a hidden fuel but rather the world’s first fuel?” said van der Hoeven.

From 2005 to 2010, energy efficiency measures saved the energy equivalent of $420 billion worth of oil  – or 570 million tonnes of oil equivalent (toe) – in a group of 11 IEA member countries, according to the agency’s maiden Energy Efficiency Market report.

Had it not been for the energy efficiency measures implemented, consumers in those member countries would now be consuming – and thus paying for – about two-thirds more energy than they use now.

In 2010, energy savings from efficiency measures exceeded the output from any other single fuel source. That year, the 11 member economies avoided burning 1.5bn tonnes of oil equivalent (toe) thanks to efficiency improvements developed since 1974. In contrast, those same economies consumed about 1bn toe from assets developed over the same period.

Cumulative avoided energy consumption due to efficiency measures in the IEA countries amounted to over 32bn toe since 1974. The Paris-based watchdog said that effective policies and the high price of energy, particularly oil prices, is driving the expansion of the energy efficiency market.

For many years, commentators, including the IEA, struggled to clearly grasp what energy efficiency is, but the agency is taking a new perspective to the market with this report, treating it as any other energy source.

“Energy efficient opportunities really make up an interlinked constellation between transport, industry, buildings, and the like, and understanding that constellation as a market is a relatively new undertaking,” said van der Hoeven.

The IEA estimates that investment in key energy efficiency markets worldwide totaled up to $300bn in 2011, mirroring supply-side investments in renewable or fossil fuel electricity generation.

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