08 Jun Misconceptions and Realities of Energy Efficiency
Which are those energy efficiency facts everybody should know?
The easiest way to understand how someone acts energy efficient is when this person uses less energy than another one, receiving the same service level. This concept is also known as efficient energy use, and its goal is to reduce the amount of energy required to provide products and services. A key word for efficiency is Sustainable Energy. That is to say, all those systems that create energy through renewable sources would be sustainable.
When we talk about energy efficiency we must mention the “Energy Hierarchy”. This hierarchy comprises several levels organized by the degree of priority. They are classified to assist progress towards a more sustainable energy system. The 2 highest priorities would be energy saving, followed by energy efficiency. They cover the prevention of unnecessary energy usage through improving energy efficiency and eliminating waste. The next priority in the scale is Sustainable energy production through new resources. We call it renewables. The lowest levels mainly talk about low carbon generation and emissions.
What does this theory tells us? Energy efficiency used to be one of the lowest priorities when energy was cheap and people were not generally aware of its environmental impact. The easiest example where we can see this fact is with incandescent bulbs. These were the most common used bulbs until the late 20th century. What people didn’t know is that they waste 90% of their energy as heat, whereas only the 10% converts to useful light. Yet, nowadays energy efficiency is at the top of the hierarchy, and it’s reflected in noticeable technological advances like LED lighting, which are ten times more efficient than incandescents.
3 examples from real life to understand Energy Efficiency
Let’s put some common examples that will help us see what energy efficiency really means:
- You decide to replace your washing machine. We know it works with energy. If the new equipment you buy provides the same service but using less energy, that is an energy efficient action. You save money and your energy bill will be reduced. Or you will reduce the amount of greenhouse gases going into the atmosphere. Or both. And the same happens with your computer or refrigerator.
- Changing a single pane window to a more energy efficient one. This window will prevent heat to escape in winter (again saving energy staying as comfortable as before). The same in summer: this window will keep the heat out, you will not use air conditioner as often, and you will end up saving energy and money.
- When you replace an incandescent lamp with a compact fluorescent lamp, you are acting energy efficient.
Differences between Energy Efficiency, Energy Conservation and Sustainability
On the other side, it’s important to differentiate Energy Efficiency from Energy Conservation. Reducing or going without a service in order to save energy is energy conservation. The easiest example is turning off the lights. The tricky part is that both concepts mean using less energy. However, energy conservations refers to those behaviours that result in not using energy at all, whereas energy efficiency exists as a way for being sustainable, save energy, lower gas emissions and ultimately save money.
Now it’s time to stick to reality to fully understand this topic. There are differences between what’s sustainability and what’s energy efficiency. At least, both terms differ in their goal and point of view. What is sustainability if it’s not energy efficiency?
Sustainability avoids any kind of impact on the environment. There is no interest behind. Energy efficiency, however, focuses on increased profitability, and increased profitability leads to growth. From an efficient perspective, you will save money. Thus, there is a personal interest behind carrying out efficient techniques, either if you do it in your business or at home. From a sustainable perspective, with energy efficiency you are still producing waste, you are still using energy and you are still contributing on the greenhouse effect.
A perfectly sustainable business would have zero waste and would require zero input outside of growth. And it is possible. For instance, supplying the electricity for some offices from a renewable energy source would create zero waste, being a complete sustainable business.
The 3 Energy Efficiency Facts
I will end up focusing on 3 faces of energy efficiency, to understand why it has been growing over the current century. We could call it as the 3 ingredients for an energy efficiency revolution:
- Technological improvement: there is a constant development of smart technologies that bring intelligence in systems like HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning), or just in the way electricity is distributed. What intelligence does to efficiency is helping and making sure appliances, equipment or facilities operate when it’s crucial.
- Integrated design: An integrative design is the method for designing buildings that develops a holistic design (systems functioning as wholes). This method can easily drive to energy savings. New buildings are, for instance, designed as passive houses (ultra-low energy buildings).
- Investment opportunity: the perspective taken for energy efficiency is long-term, but it entails a huge return on investment in a near future.
The energy efficiency revolution is already a thing and people need to be aware of what does this revolution imply and how can it be achieved. There is no way of contributing to the world’s sustainability without being efficient. Thus, there is no way of being efficient without managing energy and using it properly.