Energy Transition

4 energy-saving projects from around the world you might want to know about

With rising prices, measures for improving energy efficiency need focused investment.

With rising prices, measures for improving energy efficiency need focused investment. Image: Unsplash/Andrey Metelev

Andrea Willige
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Energy Transition

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  • With rising energy prices and the continuing climate crisis, measures for saving energy are our “first fuel”.
  • While some energy efficiencies are very easy to make - by turning off appliances or lowering the heating temperature - others require greater investment.
  • Governments have reinforced financial incentives as well as regulations to help make those more capital-intensive changes, while technology to help with the necessary changes has also improved.
  • From cladding buildings to turning up air conditioning units, here are four global examples.

“We call energy efficiency ‘the first fuel’.”

Those were the words of Fatih Birol, head of the International Energy Agency, at Davos Agenda 2022.

With the dual challenge of rising energy prices and the continued climate crisis, a lot of energy efficiency measures are within everyone’s reach: turning the heating down by a few degrees, switching off lights, computers and TVs when not in use, or buying the most energy efficient appliances.

Other measures require more substantial investments to make homes and other buildings energy efficient. But these can lead to significant returns over time, for instance insulating roofs and walls, or installing solar panels.

In the wake of the cost-of-living crisis, governments the world over have been at pains to introduce financial incentives for making those more capital-intensive changes.

In its latest report, the International Energy Agency (IEA) puts investments in energy efficiency at $560 billion this year - a 16% increase on 2021. Since 2020, governments around the globe have put around $1 trillion toward energy efficiency measures such as updating homes and commercial buildings, public transportation and electric vehicle infrastructure.

Since 2020, governments around the globe have put around $1 trillion toward energy efficiency measures
Since 2020, governments around the globe have put around $1 trillion toward energy efficiency measures Image: Tracking Sustainable Recoveries

But in these challenging economic times, governments face many competing pressures for funding.

For example, in the UK, the Green Homes Grant scheme for homeowners was suspended after six months, and the focus shifted toward supporting poorer households. Fast-forward a year and a $1.2 billion investment has recently been agreed to re-introduce funding for a much wider range of households. Running from 2023 to 2026, the scheme is intended to contribute to reducing energy consumption by 15% by the end of the decade.

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How is the World Economic Forum facilitating the transition to clean energy?

Improving energy efficiency with policy and innovation

Here are four examples of schemes that reflect the world’s doubling down on energy efficiency in both policy and innovation.

1. Making ageing school buildings in the US more energy efficient

Dated infrastructure and inefficient heating and cooling systems are typical blights for around half of state schools in the US. The Renew America’s Schools grant programme is targeted at making facilities in rural or high-poverty areas more energy efficient. Alongside, the Energy CLASS prize will make funding available for local education authorities to train up energy champions who will, in turn, audit schools, plan and implement infrastructure updates in schools.

2. Chile pioneers energy saving e-buses

Since 2017, the share of electric buses and vehicles in Chile’s capital of Santiago has risen to more than 1,700, or a quarter of the fleet. The government’s electromobility strategy for public transport has turned Chile into a leader for electric vehicles in South America and second worldwide - behind China. Higher upfront investments are matched by significantly lower operating costs, making for a commercially attractive proposition: per kilometre travelled, using electricity costs less than a quarter compared to diesel.

3. What a difference two degrees make for saving energy

Regulations in India require manufacturers of air conditioners to set the default temperature of new devices to 24°C rather than the typical 22°C or 20°C. While users are free to change the setting, many don’t, saving energy as a result. The Hindustan Times reported that this approach could lead to using up to nearly a quarter less in electricity.

Spain took this approach one step further amid an intense heatwave this summer with a general mandate that air conditioning units must not be set below 27°C.

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4. Wrapping homes up to reduce energy consumption

In the EU, a lot of energy efficiency measures are targeted at new homes and buildings. However, to reach net-zero targets, concentrating only on new builds won’t suffice - existing buildings have to be upgraded, too. But retrofitting energy saving technologies to old buildings is not always straightforward and progress has been slow.

With many national mandates for retrofitting already in place and new EU regulation looming for the least energy efficient buildings, a German startup called Ecoworks has come up with an ingenious solution: cladding the outside of old buildings in tailor-made insulation panels that fit the house like a glove. The company also fits heat pumps and roofs with built-in solar panels, so buildings can generate some of their own electricity.

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The combined pressures of the energy and climate crises and how these can be addressed by collective action will be one of the core focus areas at the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2023.

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