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New Energy Efficiency Expo is timely ‘event innovation’ in long era of policy failure

by Murray Hogarth
posted on Wednesday, August 7th, 2019

 

All-Energy Australia has long been the-event-to-be-at for progressive energy types in Australia. In recent years, however, its main exhibition hall has become dominated by energy storage and inverter system displays. Now the organisers are boosting their focus on energy efficiency as well, and also moving on to the front foot for the rise of sustainable mobility.

 

MURRAY HOGARTH: ON MY WATTS

At first glance it seems wonderfully retro to create a dedicated expo and conference stream for energy efficiency at Australia’s biggest annual celebration of all things ‘new energy’.

After all, energy efficiency has been around forever, right? 

Isn’t it the unsexy, excitement-poor cousin of the poster child of the energy transition, renewables? Especially rooftop solar PV, with over 2.1 million sites in 2019 compared with around 7000 back in 2007, and in recent years the rising presence of energy storage technologies and battery hype (two years ago the boosters were talking up 500,000 to a million systems in Australian homes by 2020, but the reality is nothing like this).

Hopefully, the decision by Reed Exhibitions to embrace the inaugural Energy Efficiency Expo as an adjunct to its successful All-Energy Australia annual mega event reflects genuine appreciation of the importance of efficiency for the transformation to a clean energy future.

The fact that the increasingly active, highly strategic Energy Efficiency Council is partnering with Reed Exhibitions is a good sign that this long overdue recognition is authentic. Of course, and this will be explored further in future Wattwatchers posts, it’s not just about energy efficiency per se. It’s about productivity, asset protection, and real value creation, and data-driven solutions can turbocharge the beneficial outcomes.

This is certainly why Wattwatchers has made the Energy Efficiency Expo our first ever foray into taking our own stand at a major trade show. We welcome it, and we want it to succeed.

For me personally, the arrival of the Energy Efficiency Expo at all All-Energy Australia is also a reminder of the massive opportunity cost for Australia of more than two decades of failed energy and climate policy for our nation.

I say this as one of the few people I know in 2019 who were there in 1997 for one of the seminal events in global climate change action history, the landmark Kyoto Summit, convened in Japan by the United Nations five years after the legendary Rio Earth Summit in 1992.

Kyoto was where the concept of creating a marketplace for greenhouse gas emissions, to trade so-called ‘carbon credits’, first took hold. It came from the Americans, as many terrific and also terrible ideas tend to do, and it arguably has misdirected energy and climate policy ever since.

With the always wonderful benefit of hindsight, it turns out that emissions trading is a bit like economic rationalism for environmentalists, and too purist for the real world. It makes terrific sense on spreadsheets, and should work, all things being equal. Except that all things aren’t equal, and trading (or taxing) carbon is political quicksand that has mired Australian politicians for decades.

To oversimplify it, putting a price on carbon and trading in credits was meant to stimulate the market for lower-emission technologies and activities, and discourage higher-emission ones. And it would, if implemented properly and consistently.

But we now know that other mechanisms, such as a well-focused Renewable Energy Target (RET), are less politically unsaleable than a price on carbon. In Australia, in spite of adverse politics, a RET has delivered the world’s highest penetration of rooftop solar systems over the past decade or so, which seems to be a complete anomaly in a nation with such a disastrous lack of any coherent national energy and climate strategy for at least two decades.

Which brings us back to energy efficiency. It’s the perfect accompaniment to renewables, and needs to be regarded alongside them as a complementary form of distributed energy resources (DER), because it can be done across the electricity system, at every scale, and most remarkably often at low, zero or negative cost.

Nowadays it’s common to talk about ‘negawatts’, and the best watt being the one you never use. Which all goes to the point that energy efficiency, however uninspiring ‘being efficient’ may sound, is an absolute no brainer when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in a coal-fired generation heavy economy like Australia’s.

But in my recall it was about a decade after Kyoto, circa 2007-8, that the international advisory group McKinsey Co. came up with its somewhat famous ‘marginal cost abatement curve’ model for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, including one modelled specifically for the Australian economy, that showed a massive energy efficiency opportunity.

Here it is, a trip back down carbon memory lane:

 

From the perspective of 2019, the McKinsey team got a lot wrong. They were OK on their wind energy forecasting, but they really had no idea about the rooftop solar PV boom that was just over their forecasting horizon. Instead, they thought the now totally discredited Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) was the next big thing, and also rated geothermal generation highly, but the passage of time has demolished these industry-preferred dreams.

And I can’t help but feel that the McKinsey team vastly underrated the energy efficiency opportunity, even though they’d made its value case abundantly clear (that’s all the stuff below the line at the left-hand side of the curve diagram).

Successive national governments have had ample opportunity to do something about harnessing the power of minimising energy waste and overuse, as a cost-competitive way to cut emissions alongside more expensive options for changing the way in which electricity is generated. They’ve fiddled around with incentives for energy efficiency at the margins, but have failed to push ahead with the obvious requirement for a national energy saving target that builds on state-based schemes, primarily in NSW and Victoria.

So here we are. It’s 2019. The Energy Efficiency Expo is coming to All-Energy Australia this year. Let’s make this right, finally! Please!

 

FOOTNOTE: Maybe you think I’m being too hard on the Coalition, which has held national government in Australia since 2013; or the Labor-led government before that between 2007 and 2013; or even the Coalition government prior to that which held power between 1996 and 2007? I say think again:

  1. Read this recent article in Renew Economy https://reneweconomy.com.au/a-national-savings-scheme-could-save-4-5-liddells-by-2030-2030/ 
  2. Or look at this link for the National Energy Productivity Plan (NEPP) in 2015 https://www.iea.org/policiesandmeasures/pams/australia/name-152296-en.php
  3. Or this one for the National Strategy on Energy Efficiency (NSEE) dating back to 2009 https://www.industry.gov.au/Energy/EnergyEfficiency/Pages/NationalStrategyEnergyEfficiency.aspx

Across decades, and different governments, it’s all about strategies and plans that never really happen. We can do better.

 

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