BlogSpot by Dr Sea Rotmann: Why Is Energy Efficiency So Unsexy?

Following the recent launch of the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook (Nov 12), the media talked a lot about the prophecised US independence of foreign oil imports by 2035.

Much less exposure was given to Chapter 10, which outlined the huge importance of energy efficiency in order to get anywhere near a (only!) 2 0C temperature rise scenario. How is it, that despite the potential to shift 1/5 of global energy demand by implementing simple and cost-effective energy efficiency measures, it remains an ‘epic failure’ in the policymaking of most countries, according to Fatih Birol, IEA’s Chief Economist?

What is it that makes energy efficiency, with its vast benefits for little costs, such a ‘neglected stepsister’ to the big brothers oil, gas, nuclear and technological wi dgets and silver bullets like the ‘hydrogen economy’ or carbon capture and storage? Is it because it isn’t a fuel, and no straight-forward monetary gains can be made from it? Is it because it does not really need any major new technologies and inventions? Or is it because it largely depends on the elusive notion of wide-scale, global ‘behaviour change’ of individuals, businesses and governments? Probably a little bit of all of the above.

Humans are wired to respond to short-term stimuli over rationalising long-term consequences of their actions. Do you calculate the probability of increasing global warming every time you board a plane or get into your car? We like the idea of quick fixes and that human ingenuity will triumph over any threats, be it a changing climate, a polluted environment or rapidly dwindling resources being often held by less-than-friendly regimes. We even fool ourselves that we may be able to triumph over the laws of nature, such as thermodynamics, but it is unlikely.

 More likely we’ll see increasing extreme weather events, climate refugees and wars fought over dwindling resources, with our planet’s biodiversity rapidly vanishing. One of our biggest, and most immediate threats, namely ocean acidification, is rarely mentioned or known outside the scientific community. Our inability to rise to these global, common threats is that they are not linear, straight-forward or easily measured. They often disadvantage the poor and disaffected first, who have less of a voice than big corporations with billion dollar advertising budgets. The 1.3 billion people with no access to electricity  will feel the pain long before the Western world will.

 So what shall we do, us who use up 80% of the world’s resources and cause most of the pollution that is damning us all? Embrace our own personal responsibility, empower ourselves with the knowledge that every little thing we do will count, and start thinking about the simple solutions first: where do I needlessly waste energy? Where could I save costs or re-use products in a better way? Where can I improve the health and wellbeing of my family whilst also reducing my (energy) consumption? Where can I change my lifestyle to do little things like bike to work and spend the money and extra hour it would take to go to the gym, with my family?

 The IEA DSM Implementing Agreement Task XXIV is looking at various theoretical perspectives of human behaviour and how to ‘translate’ them into useful, practicable recommendations for the intermediaries that design and implement the policies and programmes we need to achieve the 20% energy savings target. We approach this as a human problem with a human solution and utilise successful tools, such as storytelling and social networking, film and graphics to better illustrate how to make energy efficiency, if not sexy, than at least a no-brainer.

Dr Sea Rotmann, Operating Agent of IEA DSM Implementing Agreement Task XXIV: ‘Closing the Loop – Behaviour Change in DSM: From Theory to Practice’