Energy efficiency stalled

Hugh Saddler, Centre for Climate Economics and Policy at the ANU, reminds us that the cheapest way to cut greenhouse emissions is to improve energy efficiency – the low hanging fruit of abatement. 

But progress in energy efficiency in Australia has been miserably slow – 1.1% in the three years to 2017-18 – and much too slow to reach the 40% target by 2030.

The Federal Government champions lower power bills but you won’t find anything concrete in its current plan to achieve more efficient use of electricity.  

Neither will you get a true picture of what’s been achieved from the plan because the Government has changed the goal posts. Now it measures primary energy (at generation) rather than final energy which is what we get as consumers, improving ‘results’ by a factor of more than three.

The difference is due to the enormous loss in processing, see here:

A lot of energy is lost in the process of turning extracted primary fuels into ready-to-use fuels for consumers. For example at coal-fired power stations, on average, one-third of the energy supplied by burning coal is converted to electricity. The remainder is lost as waste heat.

In May the Australian Business Council urged the Government to take up the many opportunities for energy efficiency, suggesting areas of investment could include: 

– more efficient and controllable appliances and equipment, especially for heating and cooling

– improved shading and thermal envelopes (improving the way a building’s walls, ceiling and floors prevent heat transfer) 

– smart meters to measure energy use

– distributed energy generation and storage, such as wind and solar backed by batteries

– fuel switching (replacing inefficient fuels with cleaner and economical alternatives)

– equipment, training and advice for better energy management.

If done well, these investments would durably lower energy bills; ease strains on a rapidly changing energy system; improve health and safety during increasingly hot summers; boost the competitiveness of local manufacturers, whose value to Australia is clearer than ever; enable deeper emissions cuts – and sustain activity across a broad range of trades and industries.

photo: Federico Beccari, Unsplash

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