Energy Efficiency: A Lost Opportunity?
We all burn unnecessary amounts of energy; if we used more efficient machines and lived in warmer houses we would be able to reduce our energy demand massively (approximately by the amount that renewable energy is producing today), create thousands of green jobs and reduce our CO2 emissions. So why arn’t we picking the easiest and lowest hanging fruits to reduce our emissions?
A new car is something that is sexy; a ground heat pump is not. Why is the ground heat pump not sexy? Firstly because millions of Dollars, Euros and Yen are not spent advertising them every year. And secondly it does not improve our social image greatly. You cannot take your heat pump for a spin at the weekend or see the neighbour envy over it.
The companies that provide wall insulation or boilers therefore need to work harder to persuade us that we need to replace that old clapped out boiler for a new Toyota Prius hybrid.
Persuasion usually comes in the form of saving money over many years, but after a large initial investment. A heat pump has a payback period of between 7 to 12 years. At an initial cost of $7,500 – $12,000 it’s a massive investment. People don’t mind going into debt for fun products but for a heat pump many people would rather spare themselves the hassle.
Energy efficiency is a labour intensive industry that could create thousands of jobs in the building sector. However the building sector is not quite as centralised and unionised as other industries, for example the car industry. The work is supported through casual labour, when there is work it sucks in more workers and when there is not it lays them off. Politics finds it easier to ignore the industry.
Governments should be encouraging energy efficiency through incentives as the costs to government are smaller than either the consequences of global warming or the subsidies needed to encourage either new energy sources such as wind or solar or the continued subsidies for nuclear, coal, gas and oil.
The cash for clunkers schemes that many western countries implemented in the lattest economic crisis including the USA, UK, Germany, France and Italy was in some cases linked to car size and real efficiency (France, Italy), but in most countries the standards were not exactly tough. People may have bought smaller cars but only because of the historically high oil price.
The energy required to manufacture a new car is often a lot more than the savings in fuel efficiency. The cash for clunkers schemes artificially shortened the life span of many cars meaning more energy had to be invested sooner than normally would have occurred.
Energy efficiency incentives could be better invested in the scrapping of old fridges, boilers or washing machines as with such products people are more likely to consider the efficiency rather than how it looks and unlike cars they are less likely to replace it before it is complete junk.
Another example where the government should consider regulation more carefully comes from the UK. There it was set into law that electricity companies should help the consumer reduce their energy demand. The energy companies therefore bombarded the consumer with energy efficient light bulbs. The companies were helping, but instead of every consumer having a stockpile of light bulbs they could have invested more in schemes such as boiler replacement or the improvement of wall insulation. Schemes where the consumer is less likely to act spontaneously. The power companies were allowed to pick the low fruit of bulb replacement.
The energy efficiency sector therefore needs the government to take the lead. To support an industry that will find it hard to support itself, because it does not have the sex factor, unionised workforce or powerful lobby behind it. The tragedy is that we could achieve more, a lot more through energy efficiency than through investments elsewhere.
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