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Why is Energy Efficiency Not Realized? - Barış Sanlı

Energy efficiency is the first fuel for some. The low-hanging fruit of the energy tree, efficiency is the solution to all evils. The consumer will pay less and have better leverage with energy efficiency. Yet, energy efficiency is not accelerating. Why?

I used to suggest a conference titled “Why Energy Efficiency is not happening?”. Sometimes it is better to analyze the mistakes and obstacles than triumphing a rosy future. The power of negative thinking is useful in scientific cases to make a positive start. Therefore, we have to understand why it is not happening.

In the energy efficiency reports, we are seeing spending over 250 billion € per year at the global level for efficiency, but the progress is uneven. Most of this spending is in the developed economies, but still, the demand dynamics are not suppressed, excluding the deindustrialization of Europe. Although not a healthy indicator, energy intensity fluctuations do not match spending. Something is wrong, or the efficient allocation of capital in energy efficiency projects is not happening.

This month, we see a rise in auxiliary or extra heater sales in some European countries. The fear caused by energy crisis discussions has pushed consumers to buy extra heaters. This is one of the classic problems with public policy making. Information campaigns may not lead to the intended results. Also, automotive fuel shortages lead to even more queues outside pumping stations. So where is the energy-efficient consumer?

Energy efficiency is not happening because the consumer thinks he is already efficient to the limit. She has a point. Energy consumption has a recurring pattern. We wash and iron clothes on the same days and dine and wake up at similar hours. We entertain ourselves at the prime times. We are optimizing our energy consumption according to our lifestyle. Having a washing machine starting after 1 o’clock midnight and finishing at 3 o’clock will not work.

A general pitfall of experts is their relation to their expertise field. Most of the time, they think their expertise field should have precedence over others. If the problem or expertise is energy efficiency, everyone should do it because it is the right and economical thing to do. But creating an energy-efficiency behavior may create a suboptimal lifestyle. Since we have a recurring energy consumption pattern, changing these patterns or styles needs optimization in other areas.

Therefore, behavioral methods may be used. But the underlying problem with energy efficiency changes (other than technological upgrades) is our lifestyle is optimized for our needs and desires. Changing this for water usage, internet usage, or fuel consumption will change our optimizations in other parts of our lives. These lots of other optimization changes will create more costs than efficiency gains. That is why we delay all the energy efficiency measures until a crisis finds us.

Therefore, we must push appliance and car manufacturers to design the most energy-efficient devices as the default option. A consumer should have only the most energy-efficient choices in her buying decisions. We cannot optimize the lifestyle of every single consumer for energy efficiency, as experts suggest. We have to optimize the tools, not the people.