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Page added on October 28, 2013

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The World’s Number One Fuel Source Isn’t Even a Fuel


The first ever Energy Efficiency Market Report was just released by the International Energy Agency, and it clearly illustrates for the 11 countries* it examined that between 1974 and 2010, energy efficiency was the largest energy resource. In 2010, alone, (the most recent year for which data is available) savings from energy efficiency was greater than the output from any other single fuel source – including coal, oil, nuclear and gas. Who knew?

We already knew from a recently released NRDC report that energy efficiency – stretching our energy dollars to do more with less– is America’s greatest energy resource.  And that despite it being our most productive and cost-effective resource, we keep forgetting it is a resource just like coal and oil but so much cleaner in terms of our air. (Efficiency isn’t even included on the list of the “all of the above” energy strategies being discussed in most public discourse.) This isn’t just an American phenomenon, but a global one that the IEA refers to as the “hidden fuel…hiding in plain sight.”

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Photo of thermal imaging showing energy loss by, under Creative Commons

The IEA report makes a number of other very eye-opening findings with regard to energy efficiency, including:

  • There is a huge economic opportunity to do more globally, and we aren’t even close to tapping it. Two-thirds of the economic potential to improve energy savings and cut its waste (in industry, transport, power generation and buildings) remains untapped in the period to 2035.
  • Investments in energy efficiency (and remember, it costs less than any other resource) are comparable to renewables and fossil power generation investments – totaling $300 billion in 2011. But investments in energy efficiency are still less than two-thirds of the level of fossil fuel subsidies.
  • There are tremendous benefits at stake. Efficiency measures implemented from 2005-2010 saved the energy equivalent of $420 billion worth of oil. Consumers in those 11 countries would have consumed (and paid for) two-thirds more energy than they currently use.
  • Efficiency had a larger effect on restraining energy growth than any structural changes in the economy. Energy use between 1990 and 2010 increased by only 0.5% per year.

The report also found that effective policies (necessary because of fuel subsidies, high transaction costs, information failures and a lack of institutional capacity) had a great deal to do with stimulating the energy efficiency market.  These policies include efficiency standards and labeling, access to energy-saving information and financing, and energy efficiency standards on utilities.

Given its vast untapped potential and enormous benefits, we should not allow the world’s #1 fuel source to remain hidden anymore.

Sheryl Carter, Co-Director, Energy Program, San Francisco

6 Comments on "The World’s Number One Fuel Source Isn’t Even a Fuel"

  1. gordianus on Mon, 28th Oct 2013 5:10 pm 

    This is interesting, and encouraging. But referring to energy efficiency as a ‘fuel source’ is very sloppy indeed. Not something I would expect from someone calling themselves Co-director of an Energy Program.

  2. rollin on Mon, 28th Oct 2013 6:00 pm 

    America’s greatest resources were a huge intact and thriving set of ecosystems filled with animals, rivers teeming with fish, birds darkening the sky. Fresh water, plenty of space and lots of food. No industrial toxins.
    That is mostly gone now and it’s all poisoned in one way or another.
    Efficiency is good but it does not solve the problem. The problem is how we live and what we think we want. Efficiency often just allows people to do more of the same instead of less. Efficiency is a mere stepping stone if used properly, not an answer.
    The best and least expensive way is to just stop using energy. If you don’t need it don’t use it.

  3. Dave Thompson on Mon, 28th Oct 2013 6:09 pm 

    Yes if we all just become more efficient with energy there can always be plenty. This thinking is the real problem. A lean mean, do without, Man this like living in the stone age, third world poverty of energy is where we are headed. Beware!

  4. DC on Mon, 28th Oct 2013 7:02 pm 

    I dont know if this adds anything, but ‘efficency’ is a bit of a loaded concept I have come to appreicate. It means vastly different things to different people.

    Some consider ‘efficiency’ to mean, ‘costs less money’. A very narrow criteria to be sure.

    There is better to view and understand ‘efficiency’.

    One, is replacing a less ‘efficient’ power using device, with one that is marginally more efficient. People that think Priuses or hydrogen(lol!) cars will ‘save’ energy or the world even-fall into this category. This is what most people think of when they hear ‘efficient’. Like rollin says, do the same with slightly less energy/cost AND allow greater numbers of people to also do the same are you are.

    Net effect-energy use rises along with population.

    The other is curtailment. Dont use the energy sucking tech at all, or only sparingly.

    Example. Sell you gas-burner outright. Replace it with a bike, our use mass-transit. OR dont crank heat or AC on whenever you feel slightly uncomfortable-just deal with it in some other way. Curtailment.

    Substituting non-energy means of living is the only truly efficient thing a person can do. It may not always be possible or practical to so in all instances, but many. However, we find curtailment as a energy saving strategy does not get much traction these days.

    So for that lady to call ‘efficiency’ an energy source, is kind of bizarre. The only real reason that amerikans are not wasting all the energy, is the function of two related trends.

    One, the tanking economy. The other is, the world is not able to produce energy and materials now cheaply enough for amerikans to waste at the rate of growth they feel entitled to. The rest of the world is slowly demanding there fair share of the Earths resource. Of necessity, this means less is available for amerikans to waste. Efficiency, at in the Us’s case, has been a very minor factor.

  5. BillT on Tue, 29th Oct 2013 12:52 am 

    Is it ‘efficiency’ or just the fact that we cannot afford energy and are buying less? I think it is the latter. If that is so, then we will be ‘efficiency’ing our way into the 18th century as we work our way down the economic ladder.

  6. mo on Tue, 29th Oct 2013 1:31 am 

    Hey BillT the way things are going in the oceans we wont even be able to get whale oil to light our way

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