Climate

Efficiency Gains Over The Last Decade Saved More Energy Than China Consumed In 2011

CREDIT: Shutterstock

New data shows that efficiency efforts in advanced countries saved more energy over the last decade than the entire United States consumed in 2011.

The raw information was provided by the International Energy Agency’s Energy Efficiency Market Report 2014, the second annual release after the report’s debut in 2013. The Carbon Brief then crunched the numbers to arrive at the final comparison.

The cumulative energy savings span 2001 to 2011, and include 18 major countries — such as the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Germany — examined by IEA’s report. All told, those savings added up to the approximate equivalent of using 1.7 billion metric tons of oil. That’s not only larger than all the energy the U.S. consumed in 2011, it also overtook China’s consumption that year, and significantly outpaced the European Union’s 2011 usage.

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CREDIT: International Energy Agency / The Carbon Brief

“Energy efficiency is the invisible powerhouse in IEA countries and beyond, working behind the scenes to improve our energy security, lower our energy bills and move us closer to reaching our climate goals,” said IEA’s Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven at the Verona Efficiency Summit, where she unveiled the 2014 report.

Focusing in on the 11 member countries of IEA, their cumulative savings as of 2011 still surpassed the total consumption of Europe in that year, though it was a bit lower than the U.S. or China. “Energy efficiency savings in 11 IEA member countries were effectively displacing a continent’s energy demand,” the report noted.

In terms of individual reductions in energy use thanks to efficiency efforts and other changes, the biggest drops in total final consumption (TFC) of energy were seen in Sweden and the U.K. — though the U.S. also saw a modest reduction from 2001 to 2011. And among all 18 countries evaluated by IEA in the report, TFC was down five percent between 2001 and 2011, primarily thanks to efficiency investments.

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CREDIT: International Energy Agency

A previous analysis that IEA released in September found that improvements in health outcomes, industrial productivity, and other benefits from energy efficiency can deliver savings that are several times the cost of the upgrades. It also determined that the total energy demand IEA’s member countries avoided in 2010 was bigger than the demand met by oil, coal, or any other single fuel source. That led the Agency to change energy efficiency’s nickname from the “hidden fuel” to the “first fuel.”

The new report also noted the boom in financing for energy efficiency. About 40 percent of the efforts are now financed with debt and equity, putting the financial market for energy efficiency somewhere around $120 billion per year. High tech industries have begun to enter the market with various services and products in a big way, and IEA estimated that total investment in the sector among its member countries hit $300 billion in 2011.

The Carbon Brief also dug into a recent report from the global investment bank HSBC, which broke down global efficiency markets by sector in 2012: well over $80 billion for new homes, almost $75 billion for insulating old homes, and over $50 billion for industrial efficiency, among other things.

“Energy efficiency is moving from a niche interest to an established market segment with increasing interest from institutional lenders and investors,” Van der Hoeven continued in her statement.

Since the 1970s, the United States and arguably much of the rest of the world have effectively broken the historical trend of energy consumption increasing in tandem with economic growth. The latter has kept going up while the former has plateaued. That means we’re figuring out how to do more with less; more wealth production for every unit of energy we use.

And because the rebound effect — the tendency of people to consume more energy as it becomes cheaper — tends to be much smaller than the total energy savings, energy efficiency is a crucial tool in reducing humanity’s carbon emissions. In projections IEA laid out for how the world can stay under 2°C of global warming, energy efficiency accounts for 40 percent of the emission reductions — the biggest single contributor.