Here’s Proof: Energy Efficiency Turbo-Boosts Renewables

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So, almost every nation in the entire world signed on to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, and they made all these commitments to reduce greenhouse gases, and…now what? There are many ways to cut carbon emissions, investing in renewables being one of the major ones. But, with global warming tipping toward a permanent and catastrophic condition, ramping up the pace of change is essential. So again…now what?

Into this information breach steps IRENA, the International Renewable Energy Agency. The UN-affiliated organization is dedicated to helping nations and other stakeholders transition to renewables, and they recently came out with a new energy study showing that a one-two punch of renewable energy plus energy efficiency gets the job done more effectively than renewables alone.

Renewables Plus Energy Efficiency, Perfect Together

IRENA’s new report, in partnership with the International Energy Agency, is titled “Perspectives for the Energy Transition: Investment Needs for a Low-Carbon Energy System.” The report takes an especially close look at renewables in combination with energy efficiency among the world’s five largest energy users — China, Germany, India, Japan and the US — up through 2030.

The report makes the case that energy is the low-hanging fruit of a carbon-reducing plan:

The energy sector makes up a large part of practically every country’s emissions. In all, energy-related emissions account for two-thirds of today’s global greenhouse gas emissions. For the world to avoid catastrophic climate change, countries need to pursue energy decarbonization.

Do read the full report for some interesting details, but for those of you on the go, the critical point is that IRENA makes a case for the cost-competitiveness of renewables. The report reaches this conclusion:

Renewable energy and energy efficiency work in synergy. When pursued together, they can bring faster reduction in energy intensity and lower energy costs, according to a newly released working paper from IRENA. Crucially, improved efficiency reduces total energy demand, allowing the share of renewables in the energy mix to grow faster.

Decoupling Economic Growth From Suicidal Energy Demand

For those of you new to the topic, that thing about reducing total energy demand is, well, a thing. Up until the recent past, countries measured overall economic growth by an increase in energy demand. The energy efficiency-plus-renewables combo is slowly decoupling the two, enabling economies to expand without an increase in carbon emissions.

IRENA estimates that pursuing both renewables and efficiency could reduce energy-related carbon emissions 70% by 2050, with a full 45% of that due to efficiency gains and electrification.

The study finds that renewables and efficiency in isolation do not result in that level of achievement. Interestingly, electrification plays a critical role:

…On the end-use side, the electrification of services like passenger transport and cooking heat results in higher efficiency, allowing greater use of renewable power. On the supply side, in turn, the switch to renewable power tends to reduce primary energy demand.

While the report’s conclusion appears simple, betting the most bang out of the “RE/EE” combo requires stepping things up another notch, and IRENA is advocating for additional studies with more detailed analysis.

US Military Is All Over Renewables and Efficiency

Speaking of the Paris Agreement, although current US President* and Commander-in-Chief Donald withdrew the US from the accord last June, the US Department of Defense is still peppered with climate hawks, including the man at the top, Secretary of Defense James Mattis.

DoD focused on renewables and efficiency under former President Obama and entered climate change into the official books as a matter of national security, and it hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down.

The Navy’s Task Force Energy Facebook account is still going strong, for example, and its “Fuel for the Fleet” campaign makes the case for including water conservation in the energy efficiency toolkit.

Every branch of the armed services is involved in the transition to renewables and energy efficiency, but the US Navy presents an especially compelling case due to its seagoing operations, and the impact of climate change on its numerous humanitarian missions.

In a couple of recent developments, the US Army is exploring new opportunities for distributed renewables, and last month its Redstone Arsenal in Alabama broke ground on a new 10-megawatt solar installation with energy storage.

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Image: via IRENA.

*As of this writing.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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