Day 6 -Saving the world through better energy efficiency

Written by Kirsi Kotilainen

Today we discussed about different scenarios for the climate change based on International Energy Agency’s (IEA) World energy outlook (2015) and IIASA’s Global energy assessment: Towards a sustainable future (2012) –reports. Climate Change scenarios predict accelerating speed for temperature rise; in 2016 we have already exceeded 400 parts per million (ppm) CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, meaning that we have passed the safe limit for greenhouse gases. It has been estimated by scientist that 450 ppm of carbon dioxide in the air will lead to a rise of 2 degrees Celsius in global average temperatures. The United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris 2015 keep the target for the global temperature rise at 2 decrees change. Even stabilizing to the 450 ppm will require drastic and fast action as we are currently on the path to reaching 4-5 -degrees temperature rise by 2100. To stay at the 2 -degree path requires use of much more renewable energy resources, CO2 reduction through lower carbon fuels and better energy efficiency.

The Climate Change seems such a huge task to turnaround that it may feel almost impossible at the individual level to make an impact. But energy efficiency is actually something any of us can influence with our own choices and behavior. Demand side management (DMS) is a tool for energy companies to steer the energy consumption away from the energy demand peaks. By consuming energy in smarter ways it is possible to increase energy efficiency. And it can be to our own benefit in the short run as well; In many countries it is for example already possible to gain financial benefits by choosing to use energy during the non-peak hours when electricity is also at its cheapest. Or why not invest in own solar panel collectors and become a prosumer (a consumer producing energy). In fact, more and more people around the world are already doing this. In the United States alone, there are more than 1 million solar installations. And according to UNEP the number of residential customers with solar panels is projected to more than double by 2020. The prices for solar panels are dropping and as the initial cost for solar (or wind) collectors becomes more affordable more and more households are willing to invest.

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Economical gains are however not the only incentives that drive, or prevent, prosumption. Non-economic factors, such as motivation, have substantial role in individual decision making, especially when a behavioral change is required which is often the case when taking use environmentally sustainable solutions. Motivation can be divided into intrinsic and extrinsic; Intrinsic motivation means that the activity as such has value. It has been proposed that intrinsic motivation is the mechanism that explains the spontaneous exploratory behaviors observed in humans. Extrinsic motivation means performance of an action with the purpose of reaching a desired outcome, like a reward.

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Energy policy is mainly posing extrinsic rewards or sanctions in order to achieve better energy efficiency and boost the use of renewable energy resources. It has been however suggested that energy policy should take both intrinsic and extrinsic motivations into consideration. Energy policy has three main ways to make an impact and that’s through building awareness, incentives and sanctions. Research shows, that from the motivational perspective too much policy push can be counter effective1. Both policy makers and energy experts agree that sustainable technologies should be self-sustaining in the long run. Initial policy push however is needed to steer the households and industries towards better energy efficiency.

In Switzerland, the regulation demands new buildings to have maximum of 80 kWh/year/m2 for heating, this is called the Minimum Energy standard. Other more ambitious energy categories are Minergie Standard and Minergie-P.

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La Cigale in Geneva is an example of retrofitting an apartment building to be highly energy efficient. La Cigale was built in 1952 and wasn’t renovated until 2009 when a project was started to renew the building’s façade and energy system. The project cost over 20 million francs and lasted for five years. The building now meets the Minergie-P requirements for energy efficiency. The building is equipped with rooftop solar collectors and ice storage system. The co-operative chose the solar technology over other options due the energy savings in the long run as well as to achieve energy autonomy.

Also the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) is focusing on achieving better energy efficiency in cities and buildings through working with private sector companies and municipalities, governments and other stakeholders in co-operative projects to boost urban sustainability. Urban population will contribute to about 70% of world’s population in 2050 so how cities address sustainability is of huge importance. And buildings are in fact big consumers of energy, 19% of greenhouse gas emissions, 32% of global energy use 2020.

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Energy efficiency is also built into the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 7 – Sustainable and clean energy for all, which has a target to double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency by 2030.

For more tips for saving the world, take a look at the Lazy person’s guide to saving the world!

1 B. S. Frey and F. Oberholzer-Gee, “The cost of price incentives: An empirical analysis of motivation crowding-out.,” Am. Econ. Rev., vol. 87, no. 4, pp. 746–755, 1997.




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