Five Steps to Scale-Up Energy Efficiency


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Most experts agree that energy efficiency is a critical building block for sustainable development. This is because improvements in energy efficiency strengthen a country’s energy security, increase competitiveness, ease shortages in energy supply, and lower environmental impacts including local and greenhouse gas emissions.

Why doesn’t it happen then? 

A big reason is the hassle factor.  Some businesses have limitations on financing ability. Management attention is focused on the company’s priority—production.  There is often little space left over for energy efficiency.  For others, consumers don’t perceive that potential gains will offset the higher costs of energy efficient equipment.  There is also a fairness aspect: some people seeing energy efficiency as a public good, and don’t see why they should assume the burden of investment for benefits that many will enjoy—even if they did not contribute.   

Governments try to respond with regulations, incentives and subsidies, information and other mechanisms to change people’s and companies’ decision-making and behavior, but results generally lag behind the rhetoric.  So how can energy efficiency actually be scaled-up?  Here are five suggested steps:

First, focus initially on government action.  Countries in which governments took an active, leadership role in promoting energy efficiency—including seeking to achieve high efficiency levels within their own facilities—have generally performed better.  Examples of such countries include the U.S., Germany, Denmark, Japan and more recently China.  This can include a range of measures—from appointing energy managers and adopting energy management systems, to adjusting budgeting, public finance and procurement rules to favor energy efficient products/systems, to preparing case studies and best practice guides to acknowledge and reward good performers. 

Common ownership and similar building types (e.g., schools, hospitals) offer excellent opportunities to bundle projects or equipment purchases together, allowing significant economies of scale.  This allows governments to have a catalytic effect on local markets, attracting new service providers and equipment suppliers, increasing competition and driving down prices. 

Second, create budgetary space for energy efficiency.  Given the massive benefits that robust energy efficiency programs can deliver—the U.S. has saved some US$11.7 billion under its Federal Energy Management Program, Germany saves €40+ million each year from its public energy service company (ESCO) programs—governments must be urged to allocate substantial public funds to make them happen.  A large share of these funds can be provided on a revolving basis through energy efficiency funds and banking programs, guarantee schemes, and ESCO financing.  Public funds, if designed correctly, can “crowd in” rather than “crowd out” commercial financing.  Public budget support is also needed to create and maintain institutional structures—covering market analyses, data collection and analysis, program design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation, awareness campaigns, and training. Modest funds will also be required to support incentive schemes, particularly for low-income and other residential programs.

Third, stop doing pilot projects.  Pilot projects, as opposed to demonstration projects, are supposed to test implementation mechanisms on a small scale before expansion.  Unfortunately, most pilots are done without any plans or means for scaling-up successful schemes and the experience is lost soon after the pilot ends. 

Fourth, build markets for energy efficiency. Grants can, in some cases, remove the competitive market discipline that makes companies successful.  Energy efficiency programs are generally based on market-mature technologies and well-tested program models, so grant-funded pilots should not be necessary.  Governments, donors and partners should establish national programs for key sectors (e.g. industry, buildings, transport), with accompanying regulatory mechanisms, incentives, information and technical support to achieve the energy efficiency goals.  These programs should have national targets and mechanisms to monitor progress. They should allow for midcourse corrections, with accountability, if desired outcomes are not reached. 

Fifth, focus regulatory mechanisms on the nonperformers.  Developing countries often lack the capacity to enforce all the regulations, which can create huge liabilities for them.  For energy efficiency, efforts can be made to achieve regulatory compliance through programming, incentives and financing.  This leaves a smaller, more manageable slice of the market for regulatory enforcement.  Enforcement mechanisms can take many forms—from product bans to minimum standards and codes, to fines and revoking of business licenses.  China’s government closed some 2,000 energy-intensive factories (e.g., steel, cement) in 2010 that were unable to make the necessary energy efficiency improvements. It need not be that uncompromising, but the threat of regulatory action can help motivate those lagging businesses to take action.

None of these actions is easy.  But we know that energy efficiency is a powerful resource to be exploited and should be willing to make a collective commitment to making it happen.  So, let’s stop debating what should be done and get on with doing it—at scale.


Jas Singh

Senior Energy Efficiency Specialist

Join the Conversation

January 09, 2014

I agree with the points made in the blog. The governments should consider opting for energy efficiency in place of increased generating capacity to force utilities to improve efficiency. Internal combustion engine still remains an inefficient product. More research should be devoted to improve this product.

Jas Singh
February 04, 2014

The blog focused on demand-side energy efficiency rather than supply-side efficiency, the latter of which is typically covered under utility investment plans and the Bank's substantial sector reform and utility enhancement programs. For demand-side efficiency, the issue is utility incentives, since many prefer to see increased sales rather than reduced demand. For supply-side efficiency, the issue is regulations. Utilities will only have an incentive to be more efficient if they cannot pass all their ineffiencies on to their customers through their rate structure. For power generation, we encourage utilities to adopt the most efficient technology that is cost-effective.

John Thompson
January 20, 2014

Five Steps to Scale-Up Energy Efficiency. An interesting title, especially as hard water scale results in possibly the greatest cause of wasted energy. Government and their Organisations (eg The Carbon Trust)fail to recognise that encouraging water treatment could save billions and make a massive impact on Sustainability due to water fed appliances and equipment lasting much longer and maintaining their efficiency.

Jas Singh
February 04, 2014

Energy efficiency certainly spans all sectors, including the water sector. Water treatment, pumping, industrial water use, etc. all lead to significant energy use and we do recognize that saving 1 m3 of water has substantial benefits in reducing energy use. A recent ESMAP report show the opportunities for reducing energy use in water utilities and the potential for significant water savings as well.

Alex Adams
January 30, 2014

Very interesting and relevant points. The pilot projects idea is one that particularly stands out for me, especially in the GCC where generous energy subsidies often slow down any efficiency reforms. There are several solar pilot projects in Oman, for example, but little effort to scale these up. Considering others in the area (Masdar in the UAE) are investing heavily, it's time some of the smaller oil producers did the same.
Within all of this, where would improving connectivity between countries fit in, if at all? To my mind, pooling energy resources would be a great way to promote sustainability and efficiency.

Jas Singh
February 04, 2014

The vast array of pilot projects has been an issue for some time, and certainly not limited to the energy sector. Smaller donors and NGOs often focus on pilots given their limited resources. Unfortunately, this can have substantial ripple effects for larger programs. End users will not borrow for energy efficiency if they believe grant funding may be available in the future. And, it gives the impression such technologies are not fully commercial or suited to be done at scale. By connectivity, it is assumed this refers to regional power markets and interconnection, which can definitely help countries access power during times of deficit. It does not automatically lead to sustainability, as come countries are endowed with cheap coal or large hydro for example, which may not encourage more sustainable options or greater promotion of energy efficiency.