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The adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals, as well as countries’ commitments to the Paris climate agreement have provided a strong impetus for accelerating the global transition to a more energy efficient and low-carbon development paradigm. In recent years we have witnessed promising growth in the production and use of renewables around the world. Energy efficiency has also made progress in all economic sectors, but the pace has been slower than what expected and needed. This has been and is also the case of industry.

The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) has been working for more than three decades on promoting and supporting industrial energy efficiency in developing countries and countries with emerging economies. In the last 10 years more than 30 projects focused on best-available technologies (BAT) demonstration and deployment, technology upgrade and innovation

have been implemented in 20 countries within the scope of the UNIDO Industrial Energy Efficiency (IEE) Programme. The Programme has directly engaged with more than 1,000 policy-makers and institution representatives; 2,000 companies; 900 energy efficiency service providers to industry; and directly supported BAT demonstration and implementation in more than 600 companies. This article provides some feedback from a global IEE practitioner perspective.

The evidence from UNIDO’s projects experience as well as many national IEE programmes is that energy efficiency improvements and their long-term sustainability are the results of three key factors: people, information and technology, intertwined usually in very complex ways.

While technology replacement and upgrade keep getting most of the attention of most IEE stakeholders, a huge gap and substantial missed opportunities persist with respect to operational improvements and maximization of existing industry assets value.

In more than 90% of companies directly assisted by the UNIDO IEE Programme, the baseline practice for energy related activities and management was a complete segregation between different departments and units along the “energy consuming chain”, including production, maintenance, design, procurement and others. Considering that the largest energy savings opportunities are to be found and achieved through energy systems wide improvements and integration, it is a must for energy efficiency in industry to bring together the different functions, expertise and experiences in a focused and structured manner on a permanent basis.

The energy infrastructure of industrial enterprises is usually very complex and highly variable, due to a great variety of production and auxiliary technologies used, in a broad set of applications and configurations. A key lesson from UNIDO’s IEE projects is that in many countries, for many industrial sectors and technologies, there is stronger technical expertise inside rather than outside the enterprises; the challenge is to complement and lever such expertise with the right mix of competencies, skills and tools to optimize operations and energy performance, and sustain it over time and changes.

In the last 5 years UNIDO has observed significant and positive steps towards technology upgrades and greater automation of operations for energy efficiency purposes, in a good number of its countries of operations. Unfortunately frequent cases of unsatisfactory or sub-optimal performance of new technologies were reported not too long after installation. Analyses and investigations showed that in many of these cases the root-causes of problems and poor performance traced back to insufficient understanding of energy consumption drivers and insufficient consideration of the management and behavioral aspects connected to the performance of new technologies. In some cases the value loss of the investments made exceeded 50%.

In UNIDO IEE Programme’s experience building and complementing competencies and skills for energy management and operational excellence inside and outside industrial enterprises is the industrial energy efficiency intervention with the highest cost-effectiveness and the shortest time-to-impact. It represents the necessary key foundation for the lasting process of change that can drive and achieve the market transformation for industrial energy efficiency that we all need, at local as well as at global level.

Evidence from work on the ground have shown industrial enterprises from energy intensive as well as light sectors achieving normalized organization-wide energy efficiency gains in the range of 4% – 15%in the first 1-2 years at no or little cost, with carbon emission reduction costs in some cases lower than 0.5 USD per ton of CO2.