World investing as much in energy efficiency as fossil fuels, IEA says

Becoming more efficient with the energy we have is the best global source of power and fuel, the International Energy Agency said in a report issued Wednesday morning.

Driven by government policies and the high price of energy, the world invested as much as $300 billion in energy efficiency in 2011, the most recent year for which the report provides information. That’s about the same amount funneled into renewable energy or fossil-fuel power generation, the International Energy Agency said in its inaugural report on the energy efficiency market.

“Energy efficiency has been called a ‘hidden fuel’, yet it is hiding in plain sight,” said Maria van der Hoeven, executive director of the International Energy Agency, in a written statement. “The cleanest megawatt-hour will be the one we never need, and the most secure barrel of oil the one we never burn. It is also often the cheapest, and the easiest to achieve in difficult conditions.”

The report highlighted Japan as one the world’s leaders of energy efficiency savings. The nation will save its consumers $3 billion in energy reductions, with more efficient lighting, vehicles and appliances all contributing to the lowered electricity demand, the report said.

In Texas, building codes requiring increased energy efficiency have been the biggest driver of energy savings, according to Doug Lewin, executive director of South Central Partnership for Energy Efficiency as a Resource, a research group focused on energy efficiency in Texas and Oklahoma.

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In 2012, Texas put the 2009 international energy conservation code into effect for new buildings, boosting energy efficiency by 15 percent compared to previous building standards.

Houston’s requirements are even higher. The city requires buildings to be 10 percent more energy efficient than the 2009 code, Lewin said.

“Houston is a real leader in this – it was one of the first cities to go above the 2009 code,” Lewin said.

Texas also recently passed a law encouraging investment in energy efficiency retrofits for buildings by making financing more accessible. Programs are being developed to allow property owners to take advantage of this financing as early as next year.

In Texas, advanced controls for industrial buildings also are having an impact on energy efficiency savings.

“We are going to see much bigger savings from these new technologies going forward,” Lewin said.

In the United States, utilities have encouraged energy efficiency savings by increasing their investment in customer programs, from $1 billion in 2000 to $7 billion in 2011, the report said.

Texas, however, ranks in the bottom third of states for energy efficiency from utility programs, Lewin said, noting that the state’s focus has been on buildings, largely because of the high summer temperatures.