Opinion: Now is the time to focus on curtailing energy consumption and kick-start the energy-efficiency revolution

A revolution in the building of zero-carbon homes would drastically reduce our reliance on gas.

By Anders Lorenzen

The crisis of rising energy costs affecting much of the world was a key worry even before Russia invaded Ukraine. And the problem of rising energy costs has only become worse as a result of the war, especially in light of the increased pressure for countries to ease their reliance on Russian fossil fuels.

But much of the response has focused on how we can create extra energy capacity quickly. While it is welcome to speed up the build-up of renewables and nuclear, from a climate point of view many would be worried that it gives new life to fossil fuel projects that were once considered at least dormant.

But what is often cited as one of the greatest energy sources we could invest in hardly gets a mention; energy efficiency. It seems that dealing with energy consumption and curtailing is too controversial for many countries and thus is not seriously promoted.

The promise of energy efficiency

As I have previously argued, the best way to ease our reliance on Russian gas, as many countries are under pressure to cut their reliance on fossil fuels from Russia, is to use much less gas. While the northern hemisphere is rapidly entering spring with milder temperatures on the horizon, they should rapidly start to make plans now as to how to cut gas demand this autumn and the following winter. Retrofitting existing homes with loft and wall insulation and triple glazing windows ought to be an easy starting point.  

This would have a huge impact on countries’ gas demand as well as people’s energy bills while also creating many new jobs. It would be a win-win move on many fronts, easing our overall reliance on gas and thereby also our reliance on Russian gas, tackling climate change, cutting people’s energy bills and kicking renewed life into the post-pandemic economy. Additionally, governments must set seriously ambitious energy efficiency targets for new buildings and homes, and must not let them be watered down by industry.

Curtailing energy consumption

In our market-based economy regulating and curtailing spending has never been popular. But we saw during the pandemic how governments were willing to grind parts of the economy to a halt. But in this case, several ideas have been floated which would have minimal impact compared to what we saw during nationwide lockdowns. Curtailing business flights, turning down the thermostat by a few degrees and reducing speed limits on motorways could all give us enormous energy savings, with next-to-no negative impacts. 

Putting heavy appliances such as washing machines on overnight where there’s less pressure on the grid and when you’re likely to use a far greater share of nuclear and renewables than if they were switched on during the day is one of many other options. Some have suggested such actions as short-term solutions, but we should seriously consider making them long-term in promoting an economy with less waste and which is more efficient. 

The war in Ukraine is a geopolitical conflict, but some of the solutions put in place to ease our reliance on Russian gas could also have considerable climate tackling benefits. So before we kick-start a new fossil-fuel revolution we ought as a first step to look at the huge energy savings possibilities lying right before our eyes.

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