As IEEE-USA Engineering and Diplomacy Fellow, I serve as the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Adviser at the Department of State’s new Bureau of Energy Resources. In this capacity, I promote the notion that energy efficiency and conservation are critical in transformation of the world’s energy system to meet energy supply and demand, as well as climate and sustainability goals.
The world is rapidly urbanizing, and more than half of the world’s population now lives in urban settlements. Over the next 30 years, virtually all of the world’s population growth is expected to be concentrated in urban areas in the developing world. Energy efficiency is important, because aggressive investment in energy efficiency can reduce global energy demand by 19% by 2035, compared to the business-as-usual case. Of particular importance in terms of energy use are non-OECD countries–projected to account for 89% of the growth in industrial energy use through 2035.
Consider that 70% of the buildings that will exist in India in 2030 have not yet been built. These trends represent a great opportunity for energy efficiency and conservation. These new buildings can be 50% more energy efficient, at no additional cost, if they incorporate efficient features from the start. And these opportunities are attractive to private companies, because population density typically implies lower per capita investment costs of providing infrastructure and services.
While these opportunities sound promising, considerable barriers must be overcome to expand energy efficiency and conservation in many areas of the world. There are game-stopping challenges with private finance and promoting private investment in emerging markets. Companies have been very slow to invest in these markets, because governance and regulatory frameworks in many countries are not conducive to investment and capacity building. Some countries may be totally unfamiliar with financing models, such as utility financing, energy performance savings contracts, and shared savings contracts-all needed for expanded access to capital for energy efficiency investments.
Another primary challenge is overcoming the negative impact of fossil fuel subsidies, which in 2010 were more than $400 billion worldwide. These heavy subsidies serve to discourage energy efficiency and defer investment in clean-energy systems. With phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies, a huge burden can be lifted from the budgets of developing countries, freeing up funds for more effective spending. These challenges need to be overcome through multilateral commitment to phase out subsidies.
When working internationally, a one-size-fits-all approach simply does not work. Let me give you a real-world example. Earlier this year, I traveled to Sydney, Australia, for a meeting of the APEC Expert Group on Energy Efficiency and Conservation. I was one of a few hundred passengers toted nearly 10,000 miles on a brand new Airbus A380. Despite being the absolute pinnacle of modern aviation efficiency, my flight consumed a tremendous amount of energy. In fact, my proportional share of the fuel burned during my round trip was greater than the total amount of energy that the average resident of Earth uses, for all purposes, in a an entire year. I consumed more energy in my flights to and from Australia than the planet’s poorest people will consume in their entire lives. In the policymaking process, these magnitudes of differences must be realized, or policies will simply fail.
Increasing energy efficiency and conservation should be a priority, because with these technologies, it is possible to smartly mitigate growth, promote sustainable development, increase global energy security, and promote exports of U.S. technology.
The views expressed in this article are that of Patrick E. Meyer, and are not necessarily reflective of any U.S. Department of State position.
Patrick E. Meyer, Ph.D., is a 2012 IEEE-USA State Department Fellow, working in the Bureau of Energy Resources, Office of Electricity and Energy Efficiency. Meyer was also a 2011 IEEE-USA Congressional Fellow, working in the office of Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.).