Negawatts instead of … Megawatts

wThe negawatt is a theoretical unit of power saved, its name stems from a newspaper typo that Amory Lovins, the founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute and a dedicated energy efficiency supporter, decided to adopt for a 1989 keynote address at the Green Energy Conference in Montreal. Negawatts could reduce the pressure on supply infrastructure while maintaining adequate energy services for an improving quality of life. There, he painted a picture of a more energy-efficient world, saying, “Imagine being able to save half the electricity for free and still get the same or better services!”

While the primary goal of energy efficiency initiatives is to reduce total energy consumption, negawatts can have benefits far beyond the kilowatt-hour, which benefits can be broken down by level: individual, sectoral, national and global. According to the United Nations Sustainable Energy for All initiative, “Energy efficiency – getting more from our existing resources – increases global resource productivity, supports economic growth and reduces costs for all citizens.”

Α “thorn” of energy efficiency is well-known as the rebound effect, an effect which can be expressed in a direct way; because of the increased use of an enery consuming device or service due to its lower cost and also in an indirect way; when the consumer has the opportunity to purchase new goods or services, which also consumes energy, because of the monetary savings deriving by the energy efficiency improvements.

Such of obstacles have been eliminated by several governments that have recognised and addressed this mismatch in incentives. The 1970s oil crises spurred Sweden to move towards alternative energy resources, including efficiency. Today, the country has set efficiency standards for everything from light bulbs to electric motors and has decreased its dependence on oil by more than 65%.

In Japan, energy efficiency is part of the national identity. In 2008, just before a meeting of the Group of Eight leading industrialised countries, then-Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda proudlyenergy efficiency stated, “superior technology and a national spirit of avoiding waste give Japan the world’s most energy efficient structure”. In the wake of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident, efficiency mandates helped Japan to work through a difficult rebalancing of its national energy portfolio.

In the United States, California has realised impressive efficiency gains primarily through building codes implemented in the 1960s and 1970s. As a result of these and other policies, the state has recorded near-constant per-capita electricity use since 1973. This fact, known as the “Rosenfeld Effect” after the physicist Arthur H. Rosenfeld, demonstrates the potential for a large region to use efficiency to offset significant amounts of electricity demand growth.

Such efforts can deliver energy savings by 2035 equivalent to nearly a fifth of 2010 global demand, according to World Energy Outlook 2012 analysis. As IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven explained in announcing those findings, “energy efficiency is just as important as unconstrained energy supply, and increased action on efficiency can serve as a unifying energy policy that brings multiple benefits”.


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