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Director Global Strategy & Impact at EEP and Chair of the UNECE Group of Experts on Energy Efficiency

Integration and Interaction for Systemic Efficiency:

Systemic efficiency necessitates clarity about the aspired goal (e.g. net-zero, energy resilience, minimum dependency, future-proofness, etc.), available and feasible input factors (e.g. natural resources, possible synergetic relationships) for the desired outcomes (e.g. a certain temperature) and knowledge of the current state (e.g. the existing technical infrastructure). This principle applies regardless of the sector or the level of flight, whether it is buildings, industry, mobility, the energy system, urban planning or general policy design for resilient energy systems. What they all have in common is that collaboration among diverse stakeholders is of the essence. Beyond technological solutions, business model, education, training, and behavioural aspects must also be taken into account.

Increasing energy resilience, saving costs and reducing emissions are thus inextricably linked to how effectively we integrate and optimise the interaction of the individual factors of any system – technical, economic, organisational and human, as well as the resources and specifics that exist or are available on site.

Empowering stakeholders:

Acknowledging that the success of energy efficiency programs hinges on promotion and facilitation. While targeted support for micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises are a crucial element for ensuring widespread ability of taking up systemic efficiency opportunities across businesses, breaking the ice and creating trust is of particular importance, specifically among stakeholders that usually do not deal with energy efficiency, decarbonisation and the lot and may have the tendency to dismiss the topic due to catering for acute issues related to business survival – unaware that the toolkit of systemic efficiency can ease such pain.

Even if this is not the case, confidence on where to start and what is right for one’s case presents a frequent challenge. Many months down a wide-spread energy crisis with largely elevated energy costs the dilemma that acting would reduce ongoing costs / emissions / dependency significantly, but the required initial investments are too heavy to lift due to shrunk savings and ongoing high energy costs.

Therefore, the ability to identify sources of wasted resources and energy is crucial and needs to be differentiated from efficiency improvements within necessary consumption. Creating perception among employees, users or household members will embed the ability to recognise such waste and identify optimisation opportunities, in addition to gaining buy-in and support when these voices are acknowledged and heard.

Industrial Sector Challenges and Opportunities:

Electrification of industrial processes is an important step towards reducing dependence on fossil fuels, but challenges such as process changes and financial feasibility need to be addressed. Process heating and cooling, which account for a significant proportion of industrial energy consumption and are often fuelled by fossil fuels, are a key focus. However, the exploitation of unused waste heat potential is hampered by a lack of knowledge, so that large potentials remain unrecognised or neglected.

This is tragic as this is the biggest lever to reduce energy-related emissions from the industrial sector, eases the energy crisis and is the issue that is most important for achieving systemic efficiency: electrification or easier fuel switching (e.g. gas to hydrogen) both have an impact on one-off and ongoing costs, raise questions about ongoing security of supply, but also have a strong impact on systemic efficiency. This is due to the conversion efficiency (e.g. when converting electricity to hydrogen) in conjunction with the energy efficiency of the process (e.g. which form of energy in conjunction with which (process) technology provides me with the desired temperature – e.g. 600 °C – most efficiently). Due to the associated costs and availability, the identification of unnecessary consumption and utilisation of waste heat to reduce energy demand represents a huge – often untapped – opportunity for many.

Storage and Demand-Side Flexibility:

At both system and user level, the ability to adapt energy demand to an unstable supply and/or to use suitable storage types for one’s own forms of energy and usage patterns ensures a stable energy system and increases security of supply, proportional self-sufficiency in combination with local generation, and thus one’s own energy resilience.

Digitalization for Enhanced Efficiency:

Digital approaches, including monitoring the consumption of all types of energy (e.g. electricity, heating, cooling, compressed air, oil, gas, coal, etc.), are the basis for detecting anomalies, identifying potential, optimising use and developing mixes of measures to achieve systemic efficiency.

Buildings, Urban Planning, Mobility and the Energy System

The general principle also applies to other areas and levels. For planning and mobility, it means that mobility is only required when what is needed is not within easy reach. If this is the case, what (mode or sequence of transport and associated) – possibly digital – infrastructure is needed to meet this need.

Not least, the extreme weather events worldwide, the energy crisis resulting from the Ukraine war, and the vulnerabilities exposed by the coronavirus pandemic underscore the need for adjustments at all levels. Preserving prosperity, enabling it elsewhere, and addressing the climate crisis require heightened awareness of system interactions and solutions that transcend individual disciplines. While technologies can be instrumental, their impact is contingent on affordability and accessibility. Even then, the ‘unfamiliar’ is often associated with a higher perceived risk, which is why changes, even when technical solutions are known, are difficult as long as the ‘buy-in’ of decision-makers is not gained. The procurement of necessary resources, as well as skilled labour, prompts consideration of what constellation of technical, economic, strategic, and psychological measures are required are required as foundation of sustainable, robust, and emission-neutral operations. This additional perspective underscores the urgency for systemic efficiency as a linchpin in global efforts toward a resilient and sustainable future.

As we reflect on these insights, the imperative for action becomes clear: Systemic efficiency is not merely a concept but a transformative force that propels us toward a greener, more sustainable world. There are many opportunities to engage and make a difference. Open access online formats and discussion forums, such as the UNECE Industry Task Force’s bi-monthly open discussion forum on December 19 from 14:00 to 16:00 CET, provide platforms for collective dialogue and collaboration.