NEEN’s Gareth Johnston looks at energy efficiency & how it fits into our current energy landscape

Posted on Nov 7, 2014 | No Comments
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NEEN’s Gareth Johnston looks at energy efficiency & how it fits into our current energy landscape
It today’s opinion editorial,  NEEN National Leader Gareth Johnston reflects on the current energy landscape and what it means for us at a community level.

With the recent UN Climate Summit in New York and the release of the latest science report from the IPCC, people seem to be talking about climate change and clean energy again.  In New York’s meeting, which was attended by my Catholic Earthcare Australia colleague Jacqui Remond, there was a lot of discussion around how the international community should be implementing climate solutions. Pricing carbon, renewable energy, battery storage, sustainable agriculture, sustainable cities and low-carbon transportation were some of the topics covered.

Having personally spent nearly 16 years trying to implement the solutions we need to create a sustainable and resilient society, I can appreciate the complexity of the issues and the magnitude of the task at hand.  Yet, too often I feel that we get so caught up trying to dream up fancy technologies and “silver bullet” mitigation solutions, that we do not give enough attention to one relatively simple and lowest-cost solution to our energy challenges.  That solution is energy efficiency, sometimes called the “fifth fuel”. When facing the terribly complex challenge of meeting the world’s energy demands, doesn’t it make sense to first make sure we’re not wasting the energy we do create?

Of course, investing in new green technology will be part of the solution, but I think we need to “brown down” before we “green up”.  Improving energy efficiency has the power to seriously cut our emissions.  Experts tell us that we could cut 20-24% of electricity demand and up to a whopping 50% of our emissions reductions goals from energy efficiency alone.

Reducing the energy we use also makes sense from an economic and security perspective.  In a world where the energy market is becoming an increasingly global affair, limiting our exposure to potential supply restrictions and price fluctuations makes sense. Big emitters like China and India recognise the importance of “browning down” as well as “greening up”.  China has committed to reducing the intensity of its energy by 2020 and Coal India has recently announced a $1.2 billion investment into solar. So, if big energy-consuming governments have worked out that managing one’s own energy future is a smart move, why don’t we see more people doing this at a community level?

The truth is that the challenge of improving energy efficiency and taking control of one’s energy sources can seem too daunting for communities to tackle on a local level.  However, the risk of not paying attention to this is too great to ignore.  Although Australia is an energy rich nation, the reality is that we are a huge fossil fuel exporter and the global community is starting to demand we leave coal and gas in the ground. For example, the booming Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) sector in Australia is all for export. We don’t currently hold any domestic LNG reserves for ourselves on the east coast.  And, it is worth noting that there is a wholesale price reset coming up in 2015 that may change the economics of the sector altogether. Domestically, energy prices from traditional sources have been increasing rapidly and this is set to continue into the future. Many of these price rises have been from investment cost recovery for grid upgrades. The community sector, with its limited resources, stands to suffer most from such price increases.

We need to really start thinking about energy demand and supply at a community level too.  Just thinking about how we use energy is an important first step, because improvements start with awareness.  The good news is that improving energy efficiency often takes little or no investment because a lot can be achieved with adequate planning and behaviour change.  People soon realise that behaviour change can contribute up to 25% of energy savings and that in some cases, adopting energy efficiency measures can yield environmental results more cheaply and quickly than renewable energy.  Another little known fact is that not-for-profits in Australia can often qualify for reduced energy costs from their energy provider simply by asking.  It just takes a phone call to your retailer to find out.

The energy landscape can be dynamic and complex, but it’s clear that major changes are coming. Community groups, residents and even business competitors are coming together to explore their own buying power, generation potential and conservation needs. The New South Wales Government has recognised the importance of this and even has a program to help communities produce their own energy locally.

The first step is to register with NEEN and contact your Regional Leader for support. I look forward to following your success.

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