Cracking the tough nut of energy efficiency

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Steps to improve energy efficiency are too often ignored despite good evidence they are among the cheapest ways to cut carbon emissions, and very often save money. Business experts debated the issues at a seminar in London on Monday, 11 October.

Energy efficiency is inevitably a “complex picture”, Peter Cunningham, managing director of energy and climate strategy at Rio Tinto, told the Green Monday event, which was co-presented by ENDS. Outside of key investment decisions, energy efficiency “is about a myriad of different projects,” he said.

Leadership and a clear dialogue are very important, Mr Cunningham said. In addition, measurement, targets and reporting are critical. “Unless you have baseline data it’s very hard.”

Peter Hobson, senior banker for energy efficiency and climate change with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, stressed the importance of energy audits to discover energy efficiency opportunities. The bank pays for energy audits in 40-50 clients per year across eastern Europe, he said. Over the past two years this has led to investments of €4-5bn.

Banks could do more in the UK, too, Mr Hobson suggested. “Now that many banks in Britain are owned by the government there’s an opportunity to raise the political profile of energy efficiency,” he said.

Benjamin Kott, responsible for greening Google’s European business operations, was the third member of the panel. Mr Kott described Google’s strategy as having three legs – achieving maximum possible energy efficiency in the firm’s own operations, investing in renewable energy, and using its reach to influence consumers, for example through the launch of the Google power meter.

All three speakers agreed that reducing energy use by SMEs and consumers is the toughest challenge. “I don’t think we’ve found the right language [to engage these groups] yet,” warned Mr Kott. “It’s not kilograms of CO2”, he added. For example, “saving costs works for the facilities manager, but might not work for the middle manager.”

Several attendees suggested that large corporations, and especially Google, should be doing a lot more to help customers and suppliers. But be careful not to “shoot the messenger,” said Peter Hobson. “You have to address the utilities,” he added.

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