Saving Electricity in a Hurry

(Paris) — 7 June 2005

The IEA released a new publication today, Saving Electricity in a Hurry, to help countries deal with temporary shortfalls in electricity supplies arising from heat waves, droughts, damaged facilities or safety problems. “Most of these shortages have some advance notice and they can persist anywhere from a day to a year”, said Alan Meier, Senior Energy Analyst of the IEA. “A regional shortage of electricity puts peoples’ lives and the environment at risk. It can also be an economic catastrophe. It is therefore vital to have strategies in place to deal with them”.

The traditional response to such shortages is to curtail power or to provide emergency local generation. Saving Electricity in a Hurry introduces a cheaper and faster strategy. The book describes how Sweden, Japan, the U.S., New Zealand and Brazil dealt with their electricity shortages by cutting electricity consumption 4 - 20 %, with as little as three days advance warning. These efforts allowed life to continue without major disruptions. One example: When a fire destroyed a transformer station in Arizona, USA, coordinated appeals for conservation by utilities quickly resulted in a 6% drop in demand, enough to avoid blackouts, until a new transformer could be installed.

Saving Electricity in a Hurry provides a “toolbox” of strategies to quickly conserve electricity. A key feature is the use of mass media - television, radio, magazines and the internet - to stimulate widespread conservation activities. “The media can help to explain the shortage to consumers and then tell them which conservation measures to take, such as adjusting thermostats, switching off lights and unused equipment and taking shorter showers”, said Meier. “This is more challenging than marketing other products but it has been proven successful in several countries”. Humour often plays an ice-breaking role in encouraging consumers to change their behaviour. “A good joke or funny advertisement can save a megawatt”, Meier added.

More energy-efficient technologies will play a greater role when the shortages last several months. This was the case in California and Brazil, where millions of high efficiency light bulbs and appliances helped cut electricity demand. California replaced almost a million lamps in traffic signals with high-efficiency light emitting diodes and saved over 60 Megawatts - enough electricity to supply 60 000 homes.

Meier also linked ongoing conservation programmes to saving electricity in a hurry. “We can’t prevent a drought, heat wave or equipment failure, but we can prepare strategies to quickly reduce electricity demand. A long-term programme to promote efficient use of electricity also includes the infrastructure to save electricity slowly”.