Sheila McNulty Energy efficiency a focus of CERA conference

It seems ironic that the world’s energy companies are proponents of energy efficiency. After all, the use of energy is what drives their profits. Yet the industry has long known that the less energy it uses itself, the more money it can save, which benefits the bottom line. This was one of the themes explored at this week’s IHS CERA energy conference in Houston.

CERA and the World Economic Forum issued a report at the conference on how the need to address climate change and the expected surge in energy demand from the developing world have moved energy efficiency to the top of the agenda for government and business. However the report also found that, in contrast to the energy industry, in the wider world energy efficiency is not always understood and is in need of a rebranding to match up with the reality of its potential.

In the words of Daniel Yergin, Cera chairman:

Efficiency is often incorrectly associated with sacrifice. Energy efficiency really means getting more of the things we want while using less energy by improving the productivity of energy use. Efficiency means that consumers use less energy while preserving thier lifestyles or even enhancing them.

The reason so many have a hard time recognising the benefit of energy efficiency, he said, was because it is intangible. Companies and individuals tend to invest in assets and products they see, feel and touch. But energy efficiency is a way of thinking.

The report indicated it has no shortage of supporters from those who follow the energy industry. Here are a few excerpts. Steven Chu, US Secretary of Energy:

For the next few decades, energy efficiency is one of the lowest cost options for reducing US carbon emissions. Many studies have concluded that energy efficiency can save both energy and money.

From Rex Tillerson, Exxon’s chief executive:

Energy efficiency will be the single most important source of energy available to the world’s economies in the years to come.

And Peter Voser, Royal Dutch Shell’s chief executive:

Energy efficiency has rightfully been put on the top fo the to-do list of most energy -policy proposals.

All that is true – if it gets into the mainstream. All across Houston, the energy capital of the world no less, empty offices are lit up on the skyline at night when the lights have been left on. Here it is fashionable to have gas-fed lamps on either side of the front door, lighting up the entranceway as in the days of castles, even when everybody is alseep. A fountain on the empty highway into downtown chugs water endlesses up and down, even when nobody is looking.

Energy efficiency can have an impact. But it might take mandates or painfully high energy prices in an energy inefficient society such as the US to make it happen.

Related links:

The problem(s) with efficiency (FT Energy Source)
An ‘oil-less’ recovery (FT Energy Source)
The case for investing in energy efficiency (McKinsey Global Institute)
Deutsche: The end is nigh for the age of oil (FT Energy Source)