October 23rd, 2015 by Richard Lord
Trevor Hutchings, Director of Advocacy at the WWF-UK, and formerly leading the low carbon economy programme at the UK government’s Department of Energy & Climate Change, had the last word at the B4E Climate Summit conference in London in September 2015 by making a clarion call to conference delegates to promote the need and opportunity for energy efficiency and energy productivity.
He praised the fact that in many countries economic growth had been decoupled from carbon emissions but recognised that although momentum for energy productivity was building, the pace and scale of progress wasn’t rapid enough.
He highlighted the huge opportunities for improved energy efficiency in the UK economy.
“Energy efficiency should be an infrastructure priority,” he said.
Implementing cost-effective energy efficiencies, such as the installation of energy efficient street lighting, could represent a saving of 10% of the UK’s overall energy consumption, which would displace the need for some new power stations.
“Making the UK economy more energy efficient provides greater energy security, growth opportunities, and health benefits.”
He outlined some of the barriers to greater implementation of energy efficiency measures.
There is a need for access to upfront finance and to have large enough projects that interest financiers.
The resulting energy efficiency improvements need verification in a standardised and comparable way, and confidence needs to be built in the products that provide genuine energy savings.
Trevor Hutchings spoke about UK government frameworks that are not adequate at the moment, which presents a public policy risk that is driving up the cost of capital for energy efficiency projects.
Unfortunately, externalities are not properly costed. For example, the health benefits realised are not factored into public policy decision making.
“There is a market failure and it’s government’s role to intervene when that occurs to ensure society has a more efficient market that is acting rationally,” he said.
Governments also need to shed their allergic reaction to regulation.
Smart regulation generates demand, jobs, and growth and spurs innovation.
He spoke of the benefits of ‘choice editing’ through minimum standards legislation that removes energy inefficient appliances from the supply chain for example.
“A level playing field needs to be brought in between demand side and supply side management,” he said.
Public policy does not recognise that a gigawatt of energy produced is the same as a gigawatt of energy saved when balancing the grid.
“Governments need to set a trajectory for carbon emissions reduction and the role of energy efficiency and energy productivity to achieve that, to ensure that there is certainty for investors and businesses.”
The public narrative on energy efficiency may have been about personal sacrifice, businesses forgoing profits, and governments forgoing growth, competitiveness and jobs but Trevor Hutchings said this narrative is out-dated and incorrect.
He stressed the need for more information for consumers to help make wiser purchasing and lifestyle choices.
There is a general inertia regarding the uptake of insulation in the home improvement market, and there is a lack of trust in the amount of savings achieved through different technologies and that needs to be rectified, he said.
Trevor Hutchings praised the role of business in leading by example and moving ahead of government in many cases.
He said that business knows the energy productivity agenda makes sense.
“It is way beyond a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) agenda. Energy productivity is about protecting the bottom line, and about business resilience,” he said.
He urged businesses and NGOs to join up and actively and openly advocate for public policy change in this endeavour.
For too long our economy has been fed the wrong type of energy, fossil fuel generated-energy, and too much of it, and the antidote is to increase energy productivity through energy efficiency measures, he said.