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Is energy productivity our new mantra?

That is just one trend at the EE Global Forum where insiders say promoting energy productivity, not energy efficiency improvements, will change policy and behaviour around the world

LEED Certification Washington 2015

Unveiling the Canadian embassy’s LEED Silver plaque in Washington with Rachel McCormick program manager, Embassy of Canada, Elizabeth McDonald, CEEA, Kateri Callahan, president ASE.

Let’s see how industry savvy you are. Where do you find policy wonks who can answer whether cities can serve as incubators for developing national energy efficiency policies? And where can you run into your counterpart from Saudi Arabia or Australia? Or find a group of Canadians promoting their energy efficiency businesses? The answer: The Alliance to Save Energy’s (ASE) EE Global Forum in Washington. This conference is a winner for its networking and insights on global EE trends and I had the privilege of moderating a panel a couple of weeks ago. Here’s my download on what’s going on and what we should all be thinking about.

Energy productivity and global collaboration are hot EE topics

There was considerable discussion about the changing role of utilities, particularly on how generation and efficiency are not always compatible. And the role of renewables was also on the table — especially the role of renewables in cutting GHG emissions and the danger of how they could undermine the efficiency message if they’re not handled progressively. We, and utilities in particular, should not be afraid of renewables and the doors that open for potential new business models. We live in an era of disruption and must be prepared to adapt and respond to the needs and demands of customers.

While we were short of a Canadian perspective on panels (that will change next year), we did have our first Canadian delegation in attendance including a closing reception hosted by Enbridge and NAIMA Canada at our embassy in Washington. Another indicator that our Canadian presence is growing: CEEA has been asked to join the Global Alliance for Energy Productivity which builds on the ASE’s push to double US energy productivity by 2030. This new initiative takes that goal to a global level. This is a great opportunity for collaboration as energy productivity is becoming the key message forward-thinking countries such as the US, Saudi Arabia and the EU are adopting for marketing energy efficiency. It resonates with policy makers and is creating important international relationships.

Strengthening our alliances

During the conference it was quite clear that companies who are active in the Canadian economy are supporters of the ASE and its activities but they are less vocal in Canada where the market is much smaller.   ASE executives were surprised to learn that Amendment 13 of Canada’s Energy Efficiency Act had not been passed yet – it will align Canadian efficiency standards with the US on 15 regulated products including refrigerators, freezers and clothes washers.  The ASE is going report to their members that we need their support in Canada and hopefully that will help us gain some traction on making this happen. Also I met with the head of the Australian Alliance to Save Energy. While their government unfortunately takes a similar stand on climate change as our federal government – it has embraced energy productivity.  The Australian Alliance will be sharing strategies with us which will help us develop compelling energy productivity messages.

Climate change is an opportunity for energy efficiency

The challenges of climate change are opening new doors for CEEA. As we move towards the talks in Paris at the end of the year energy efficiency will be part of that discussion on how to lower energy intensity. Meeting emission targets will require a range of tools and energy efficiency and energy productivity is an important part of that response. This is a challenging discussion in Canada because so much is being done at the provincial level – but the reality remains that this opens a door and we have to push it open even further.

Energy security and the role of energy efficiency

The panel I moderated asked how does energy efficiency relate to energy security and how can it be used to help diversify the energy landscape? We had a great line-up of panelists with diverse perspectives.

Philippe Benoit, Acting director, Sustainability and Technology, IEA sees EE as very relevant to energy security, and believes it needs to be considered as a fuel source. His agency’s recommendation is that just promoting EE improvements is a losing strategy. For him countries must understand the benefits of the productivity message. He highlighted how Japan pays close attention to lowering energy intensity because energy costs are so expensive there. So for the Japanese insulation is a big focus. Ukraine is also vulnerable if they don’t pay attention to the energy productivity; they’ve been exposed to exorbitant energy costs and have been compromised by their conflict with Russia.

The effects of climate change on the EE conversation and the lower costs of renewables were front and centre for Ana Unruh Cohen, director of environment, climate and natural resources for US Senator Ed Markey.  She believes climate change has brought an urgency to the discussion with the message that we have to make the world more livable for families. Maybe it’s a bit easier in the US for energy efficiency because it has bipartisan support. And the economic message is strong – the goal has to be to spur global economic growth without global CO2 growth. Cohen also said that the 2009 Recovery Act had money aside to do things like weatherizing homes, making EE part of the effort to jump start the economy.

For a truly global perspective we had Naif Al-Abbadi, director general, Saudi Energy Efficiency Center, who shared how energy intensity is a major issue in Saudi Arabia. The Saudis have reduced electricity use by 30 to 35 per cent through regulation. And they have an EE program that helps buildings, transportation and industry through demand side management. In the building sector alone they’ve taken a million air conditioning units out of the market place. There are standards for appliances and lighting and they’ve launched financial incentives in transportation including a “cash for clunkers” programs to get inefficient cars off the road. Saudi Arabia also uses social platforms to attract millennials which they’ve found to be successful for engaging younger energy users. Al-Abbadi estimates that EE savings from these various tools are $1.1 million dollars a day.

Changing behaviours was a kind of touchstone for the conversation. Barry Bredenkamp, senior director, South African National Energy Development Institute believes it is critical for South Africa which has had some tumultuous times. It became very energy intensive with the end of apartheid when investment began to pour in. After 2008 in South Africa rolling blackouts became a way of life throughout the country and energy supply became an issue. Violence has increasingly become an issue after dark in areas without electricity. The unreliable energy supply makes business difficult and unemployment high (unofficially unemployment is 35 per cent, officially it’s 25 per cent). So for South Africa they have to embrace energy efficiency and figure out how to change behaviour. They’re working on the supply side with renewables but that is also a struggle because it demands discipline and behaviour change.

Behaviour change. Energy productivity. Collaboration. It’s really up to us to take action. CEEA will continue to make alliances and collaborate to get our messages get heard. Believe me we are our own worst enemy if we don’t take action. Stay tuned for more news from CEEA on some of those collaborations.

Posted May 25, 2015

McDonald Interior Colour 2014

Elizabeth McDonald is president of CEEA