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Industrial players must put energy efficiency at the top of their decarbonisation plans
The world’s industries could save more than four gigatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions a year by 2030 by maximising energy efficiency measures.
Four gigatonnes is roughly 11% of the global emissions forecast for the end of this decade and is equivalent to taking around three-fifths of the world’s internal combustion engine vehicles off the road.
Almost half the emissions savings could be achieved by 2025—so in just the next couple of years—and the measures would produce an estimated $437 billion in savings by 2030.
The figures support the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) contention that energy efficiency should be viewed as “the first fuel” to be employed before any other decarbonisation measures.
Energy is a massive running cost for most industries, so it is natural they should seek to minimise wastage. What many industry leaders may not realise is that there is still plenty more they can do.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change admitted in its 2023 synthesis report that: “Global warming is more likely than not to reach 1.5°C even under the very low GHG [greenhouse gas] emission scenario.”
More recently, consultancy firm DNV’s annual energy transition outlook predicted the carbon budget needed to stay within 1.5°C will be exhausted by 2029, and by the end of the century we will still be 2.2°C above pre-industrial levels.
Given the dire climate impacts we are already seeing at half this level of warming, it is clear we need to increase our decarbonisation ambitions significantly, and now—not in a decade or two’s time.
Yet doubling energy efficiency by 2030 could cut greenhouse gas emissions by almost a third compared to today’s levels, according to the IEA.
In electricity generation, renewables are beating fossil fuels on cost and installation rates, and transport, too, is embracing electrification—but industrial decarbonisation is complex because of the lack of a clear alternative to fossil fuels.
The process of decarbonising industry is also complicated by the fact that industrial infrastructure is costly and lasts decades. It cannot easily be thrown out and replaced by lower-emissions versions.
This might make it seem like industrial leaders can do little to reduce emissions in the short term, but the answer is something industry is already used to but could still do a lot more of—being more energy efficient.
All industry needs to eliminate more than a tenth of the world’s emissions is not a new fuel or some other as-yet-unclear breakthrough, but a simple acknowledgement that energy efficiency deserves board-level backing.
The Energy Efficiency Movement has collated a playbook with ten recommendations for industrial players to improve their energy efficiency, none of which rely on upcoming technology or ground-breaking policy shifts.
Providing a practical framework for the development of energy efficiency strategies, the guide aims to help industry leaders make meaningful contributions to decarbonisation without significantly impacting operations and profits.
The ten actions are as simple as getting someone to audit your energy consumption, making sure equipment is correctly sized for its intended application or adding monitoring systems to your industrial processes.
Perhaps the most ambitious recommendations are to start using smart building management systems and to move data into the cloud—measures that many industrial players might already be mulling in any case.
The EEM is looking to raise awareness of the benefits of energy efficiency not only through its latest guide but also through wider knowledge-sharing efforts.
Industrial players could play a major role in achieving this breakthrough, something to bear in mind as companies seek to demonstrate leadership in decarbonisation at COP28 in the United Arab Emirates.
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