Simpler is Better: Energy Efficiency May be The Greenest Fuel

High Efficiency Fluorescent Lightbulb

By Maura Forrest

October 16, 2014

What technology will contribute the most to bringing down fossil fuel emissions from homes, cars, and businesses? Fuel cells? Nuclear fusion? Or perhaps something a little less glamorous?

A new report released by the International Energy Agency (IEA) is calling energy efficiency the world’s “first fuel.” It shows that investments in energy efficiency over the last four decades in 11 IEA member countries have saved 1.3 billion tonnes of oil-equivalent - more than the entire energy consumption of the European Union in 2011.

The report also concludes that energy efficiency is now an established market, worth at least $310 billion per year.

“Energy efficiency is the invisible powerhouse in IEA countries and beyond, working behind the scenes to improve our energy security, lower our energy bills and move us closer to reaching our climate goals,” said IEA executive director Maria van der Hoeven in a press release.

In Canada, various measures are being taken to improve energy efficiency. The federal government released its Model National Energy Code for Buildings in 2011, which establishes minimum efficiency standards for building, lighting, heating, and electricity. The code lays out a 25 per cent energy efficiency improvement over the previous building code. To date, however, only a handful of the provinces have adopted the code.

Meanwhile, many provincial energy utilities offer incentives and rebates to homeowners who buy Energy Star appliances and invest in energy efficiency improvements in their homes.

And individual cities are also taking steps to boost efficiency. The City of Toronto launched a $20-million water and energy efficiency pilot project in 2013, which provides low-interest loans to people who want to upgrade their insulation or replace appliances. 

But energy efficiency is not simply a strategy for the developed world.

The IEA claims that “huge potential for energy efficiency” exists in emerging economies. It estimates that transportation efficiency could reduce global fuel costs by up to $190 billion by 2020.