Commentary: Placing efficiency at the heart of the global energy agenda

IEA Executive Director Dr Fatih Birol

By Dr Fatih Birol
IEA Executive Director
27 June 2017

170627 India energy efficiency article India is delivering the world's largest roll-out of energy efficient lighting. Countries can harness the potential of energy efficiency to further their economic and social goals (Photograph: Mumbai; Getty Images)

Energy efficiency is an increasingly important cornerstone of energy policy for governments and industry around the world with significant impacts on global energy trends. 

If energy consumption growth is slowing in many countries, it is thanks to energy-efficiency policies that temper demand growth as more value and productivity is extracted from each unit of energy. This means economies can grow without witnessing a parallel rise in energy demand. For instance, the world used 11% less energy last year than it would have if not for efficiency improvements achieved since 2000 – a saving equivalent to the total energy use of the European Union. This is a stunning achievement that no other technology can match.

Further progress on the efficiency front is critical. Without a central focus on energy efficiency by government and industry, none of our wider energy, environmental and economic goals can be fully achieved. At the same time, energy efficiency offers the promise of greater social and economic benefits, but this is a potential that – for now – is mostly untapped. 

We see this as a major opportunity at the International Energy Agency. Take the example of India, which recently joined the IEA family as our latest Association Member and which is pioneering extremely innovative energy-efficiency policies.

Through a programme called Ujala, the Hindi word for light, India is delivering the world’s largest roll-out of energy-efficient lighting. Over 230 million lights have been distributed thanks to a policy that lowers costs through bulk purchases and allows households to pay for the lights with the savings they make. This ground-breaking programme supports 35,000 jobs, and households see their electricity bills cut by 15% on average. In total, the electricity saved by these light bulbs is enough to power an extra million homes. 

The results are clear: more jobs, lower costs, and greater access to energy for millions. And that's not all. India can also cut its energy imports and reduce its carbon emissions. The best part is that all this is being achieved thanks to a programme that gets no state subsidy. In a nutshell, this is the potential of energy efficiency.

In China, another IEA Association Member, government policy supporting energy efficiency has created a whole new sector for services where companies provide specialist services and technology solutions to make industries more efficient. The sector is less than 20 years old yet employs over 600,000 people and has annual revenues of more than USD 13 billion.

And in Mexico, the IEA has been working with the government to develop a long-term roadmap for energy codes and standards in buildings. Only energy efficiency that can square the circle of balancing rising energy needs with economic sustainable goals; it has the potential to reduce expected building energy use by more than a third.

Energy efficiency is central to the IEA modernization agenda

These examples explain why one of my top priorities as part our modernization process has been to build a global hub for energy efficiency at the IEA, where we call energy efficiency the “first fuel.” This solution needs to be central to any energy policy, and we need to raise our efforts to integrate it more into the mainstream.

Since November 2015, we’ve opened our doors to emerging countries beyond our OECD membership, and the IEA family now includes the largest emerging countries like China, India and Indonesia, and is getting ready to greet new members like Mexico very soon. Our new IEA family accounts for 70% of global energy use.

This global reach allows us to work with developed and emerging countries to support the transformation of the global energy system. Through the Technology Collaboration Programmes, the IEA oversees a network of 40 international programs that bring together 6,000 technology experts from 53 countries, key companies, and top research institutions to accelerate energy technology innovation around the world. These programmes span a full range of energy technologies, including electric vehicles, CCS, smart grids, bioenergy and energy efficiency.

We are also hosting the Clean Energy Ministerial Secretariat within our headquarters in Paris since February. Thanks to this leadership in all clean-energy technologies, the IEA is the only international organization with a comprehensive understanding of the entire energy system, including energy security, economic and environmental impacts, and new threats like cyber-resilience.

Earlier this month, we held our third annual training week on energy efficiency for emerging countries, with more than 130 public policy-makers and local experts from over 45 emerging and developing countries. Participants took part in a variety of in-depth seminars on policy, regulations and standards in all energy end-use sectors, from buildings to lighting and appliances, industry and transport.

We will host three more training weeks this year, in Singapore, Georgia and Rio de Janeiro, providing energy efficiency training to more than 500 people from about 70 countries in 2017. This growing network is contributing to creating a global community which the IEA is supporting by launching a new online platform to facilitate ongoing connections with participants.

Creating a global exchange hub for energy efficiency

This week, we are also hosting our annual Global Conference on Energy Efficiency, a high-level forum for global engagement and exchange on the topic, with more than 50 countries gathering in Paris. Energy ministers from Argentina, Ireland, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirates will report on their progress and reflect on the lessons they have learned.

Top business executives and senior government officials from all parts of the world, including all of the G20 countries, will share their insights, with a focus on delivery: how can countries implement policies and programmes that will deliver more of the benefits. The conference, which will be opened by Peter Thomson, the President of the United Nations General Assembly, will be the most significant global energy-efficiency event to date.

During the meeting, we will detail our plans to expand work on energy efficiency, including building new tools to map and measure polices around the world to create a comprehensive global resource. This new Global Exchange Hub for Energy Efficiency will be a unique resource for policy makers to learn what sector-specific policies are being applied around the world, what impact they are having, and what lessons have been learned about their design and implementation. It will serve as an online exchange platform where the global community of practice for energy efficiency can learn from each other as well as from the latest research and analysis. We will be inaugurating this new Exchange Hub at the IEA's Ministerial Meeting in November, and expect this will be a major resource to all countries interesting in designing and implementing new policies.

The IEA is here to help governments, industry and citizens make good energy choices. This begins by supporting the implementation of energy efficiency solutions around the world, for businesses, industry and households. The work starts now.

The agenda for the conference can be found here. It will be livestreamed on the IEA's homepage. 

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