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Energy efficiency - maximising the gains

Friday’s blog asked if we are becoming an enlightened public of energy efficiency experts, finding the answer is a bit of yes and no. Focusing even more intensely on energy efficiency would make a big difference, both to the bills and carbon emissions of households and businesses, but also to the national strategic energy budget - or at least according to figures from the Sustainable Energy Association (SEA).

It says that £12.1billion could be saved to 2050 by focusing policy on low-carbon buildings and localised energy generation. We can still improve our behaviour when it comes to energy, it seems. Utility software company Opower has gone so far as to suggest that behavioural energy savings are “largely untapped by much of Europe” - with an added 3.3million tonnes of CO2 potentially to be saved a year across the continent from homes alone.

The company suggests that behaviour change should be included as part of utilities’ interactions with customers, in the planning and implementation of energy efficiency programmes, and research studies. We firmly agree. Advice and information should be delivered at the key ‘trigger points’ in the life of buildings - and with saving cash and carbon a priority for households and companies, there are likely to be plenty of these points ahead. Energy security is another strong motivation in the push to energy efficiency - the oft-cited ‘keeping the lights on’.

A technological solution is demand reduction, achieved by businesses and institutions signing up to have their energy use closely monitored, and indeed their lights (or machinery, air conditioning etc.) literally turned off if they are being underused at a point in time. The National Grid pays both the company doing the monitoring and those being monitored and incentives could possibly increase if meeting energy demand becomes more pressing. It seems a simple solution to an extremely complex and politicised energy landscape - but it’s unlikely to be a single, catch-all solve.

Emerging technologies will certainly help, but modernising the grid, increasing low-carbon generation and keeping on the current path of changing our behaviour are all firmly on the agenda.

Gary Hartley is Energy Saving Trust's expert blogger. He has extensive experience researching and writing on a number of topics, with particular expertise in sustainable energy, policy, literature and sport. As well as providing regular blog content, Gary has also been published in numerous magazines and journals.

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