Efforts to mitigate climate change must target energy efficiency

Oct 26, 2012

Much more must be done to develop energy efficient cars, buildings and domestic appliances to address climate change – according to new research from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia.

A report published today in Nature shows that twice as much effort is being spent on developing supply technologies - such as new power stations - than is spent on improving the efficiency with which energy is used.

The research shows that efficient end-use technologies have the potential to contribute large and provide higher social returns on investment - so the imbalance in current innovation efforts must be redressed to mitigate climate change.

Dr Charlie Wilson, of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at UEA and an affiliated researcher with the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), led the study with an international team of scientists from Austria and the USA.

They found that innovation efforts directed by public institutions, policies, and resources allocated overwhelmingly favour energy supply technologies. But this is at the expense of efficiency in energy end-use where the potential gains are higher.

Dr Wilson said: "About two-thirds of all public innovation efforts are directed toward energy supply technologies. It is vital that innovations in renewable energy supply continue, but the imbalance in spending needs to be redressed urgently to mitigate climate change. Evidence strongly suggests that energy end-use and efficiency currently stand as the most effective ways to mitigate climate change."

The new study assesses energy technology innovation systematically and quantifies the relative emphasis placed on energy supply technologies versus the end-use of energy.

The researchers considered three desirable outcomes of energy innovation - the potential for reductions, broader social, environmental and energy security benefits, and the potential for technological improvements.

They found that efficiency in energy end-use outperforms supply technologies in all three areas. They occupy a greater share of energy system investments and capacity, and engage higher levels of private sector activity, they offer higher potential cost reductions, and they provide higher social returns and higher emission reduction potentials.

But the study shows a disproportionately high focus of effort invested in innovation in energy supply technologies – right across the energy research and development sector.

Study co-author Prof Arnulf Grubler, of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) and Yale University, said: "Efficiency gets short shrift in both public energy research and development, and in private market investments alike.

"In contrast, improvements in technologies like domestic appliances and more energy-efficient transport are underrepresented given their potential for mitigating climate change."

According to the International Energy Agency, the total public sector research and development spend for all energy end-use and efficiency innovations from 1974 was around $38 billion.

"This is less than the $41 billion spent on nuclear fusion alone - a single, and highly uncertain energy supply option which is still to make any contribution to a low carbon future," added Prof Grubler.

Meanwhile subsidies for fossil fuels, estimated at around $500 billion, dwarf innovation investments of around $160billion into non-fossil fuel energy.

Dr Wilson said: "Directed innovation efforts are trying to push energy supply technologies to mitigate climate change into a market that's already heavily occupied by subsidised incumbents.

"The multitude of small-scale innovations that improve end-use efficiency often go unnoticed because they don't have the glamour of solar panels and wind turbines, and they don't benefit from the well-established institutions, powerful market interests, and political influence that support supply technologies such as fossil fuels, nuclear, and wind and solar power. Yet end-use efficiency innovations have more potential and provide higher social returns on investments."

Explore further: Solar-powered two-seat Sunseeker airplane has progress report

Related Stories

Changes in energy R&D needed to combat climate change

Oct 25, 2010

A new assessment of future scenarios that limit the extent of global warming cautions that unless current imbalances in R&D portfolios for the development of new, efficient, and clean energy technologies are ...

Researchers draft blueprint to boost energy innovation

Nov 22, 2011

The U.S. government could save the economy hundreds of billions of dollars per year by 2050 by spending a few billion dollars more a year to spur innovations in energy technology, according to a new report by researchers ...

EU unveils trillion-euro single energy market

Nov 10, 2010

The European Union's energy chief Wednesday unveiled an ambitious 10-year trillion-euro energy investment plan for a single EU energy network to cut fossil fuel imports and fight climate change.

Climate change panel: renewable energy to be key

May 05, 2011

(AP) -- The world's top scientific body concluded that renewable energy in the coming decades will be widespread and could one day represent the dominant source for powering factories and lighting homes, ...

Recommended for you

Switch on sunlight for a brighter future

20 hours ago

Imagine sitting in a windowless room yet having the feeling of the sun shining on your face. This unique experience is now possible thanks to the COELUX EU-funded project which recreates the physical and ...

US urged to drop India WTO case on solar

Apr 23, 2014

Environmentalists Wednesday urged the United States to drop plans to haul India to the WTO to open its solar market, saying the action would hurt the fight against climate change.

Is nuclear power the only way to avoid geoengineering?

Apr 23, 2014

"I think one can argue that if we were to follow a strong nuclear energy pathway—as well as doing everything else that we can—then we can solve the climate problem without doing geoengineering." So says Tom Wigley, one ...

User comments : 5

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

ScooterG
1.6 / 5 (7) Oct 26, 2012
Hogwash alert!

This is another scare tactic designed to condition people to open their wallets to increased taxation and condition their minds to increased socialism.
ValeriaT
1 / 5 (4) Oct 26, 2012
BTW The most energetically efficient technology known so far is the cold fusion - but you probably know about it already.. Just saying...;-)
chromosome2
5 / 5 (1) Oct 27, 2012
I just moved, and the fridge here is as old as I am. I'm going to unplug it, use it as a pantry, and use a chest freezer with thermostat as a fridge. The area around here is too hilly to use a velomobile without e-assist, and for thousands of dollars, I could take more college classes-- so I'm probably going to get a recumbent trike, and maybe e-assist it later, since it's just under half the weight that way. My commute has been reduced to 4.8 miles with my new job, so if I can hit 20mph average, I should be able to pull off an emissions-free commute.
VendicarD
2.3 / 5 (3) Oct 27, 2012
All manner of progress is "socialism" according to Scooter.

Only Conservative Cowards fear progress.

SaveEnergyMan
not rated yet Nov 05, 2012
Most energy efficiency measures have paybacks less than 5 years - without all of the government incentives. Solar can barely meet that WITH huge incentives. Efficiency saves day and night, sunny and cloudy, but is not sexy. It requires technical expertise to appreciate, so it is ignored by the politicians who could never hope to understand the science. A kWh saved is better than any kWh made with renewable resources.

More news stories

Google+ boss leaving the company

The executive credited with bringing the Google+ social network to life is leaving the Internet colossus after playing a key role there for nearly eight years.

Facebook woos journalists with 'FB Newswire'

Facebook launched Thursday FB Newswire, billed as an online trove of real-time information for journalists and newsrooms to mine while reporting on events or crafting stories.

Ocean microbes display remarkable genetic diversity

The smallest, most abundant marine microbe, Prochlorococcus, is a photosynthetic bacteria species essential to the marine ecosystem. An estimated billion billion billion of the single-cell creatures live i ...