Catching the Next Big Wave
The movement is spreading. Last year it started with the Arab Spring: Citizens protesting in the street and accomplishing the unthinkable—toppling regimes and inspiring their neighbors to do the same. Then this fall, the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement sparked, and our nightly news was suddenly dominated with dispatches from tent cities and interviews with the disgruntled and displaced. Whether or not you agreed with the claims and complaints of the participants, one thing became crystal clear: empowered and embittered, the public was uniting for a common cause.
Which made me wonder—what if that enthusiasm and public support could be refocused? What if the public were to suddenly get behind infrastructure improvements and a sustainable energy policy?
In fact, there’s already some movement in those same Middle Eastern and North African countries (MENAs) towards increased energy efficiency. This is largely due to the fact that, as AMEInfo.com reports, “Driven by increased population and escalating commercial and residential demand for electricity, especially in the summer months, Gulf States have become significant consumers of oil”. These countries are seeing energy use and consumption grow at a faster rate than gross domestic product, severely impacting the region’s economic competitiveness. More worrying for both the new and established leaders of these MENA countries, “natural gas supplies no longer meet local demand, and oil exporting countries have started to tap into money-generating fuel oil reserves, impacting both local economic growth and global energy security.”
A new report by Oliver Wyman entitled “Delivering on the Energy Efficiency Promise of the Middle East” indicates that by adopting simple energy efficiency policies, these MENA countries could reduce annual energy costs by $3 billion per year. The report concludes, “Given the challenges of future energy demand, the time is ripe for MENA countries to take a closer look at the energy efficiency technologies and programs that are being used successfully in other regions of the world (including emerging economies) to reduce energy intensity. Even moderate adoption of proven energy efficiency measures in the Middle East could reduce energy demand by a quarter to half in the year 2030, greatly freeing up capital for other investments and oil for exports, as well as reducing the region’s carbon footprint.”
It’s not just MENA countries that are affected by exponential population growth and increased energy demand, and, as such, they aren’t the only ones positioned to reap huge rewards by increasing energy efficiency. In fact, widespread adoption of energy efficiency techniques and technologies could have widespread consequences throughout the developing world.
A recent UN report entitled “Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A Future Worth Choosing” recommends that the governments of these countries “work in concert with appropriate stakeholders to ensure universal access to affordable sustainable energy by 2030, as well as seek to double the rate of improvement in energy efficiency and the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.” As the report states, increasing energy efficiency around the globe is not just a stop gap against catastrophe, it’s also an opportunity to enhance and improve the lives of the energy poor.
And when it comes to energy efficiency, the old adage holds true: there’s no time like the present. As WWF director-general Jim Leape warns in his response to the UN’s report, “This report makes the alarming point that while we are already exceeding the Earth’s capacity to support us, by 2030 we will need 50% more food, 45% more energy, and 30% more water than we do today.”
Those statistics are certainly alarming, but can that alarm be translated into action? We know it’s important to emphasize the benefits of incorporating more renewable energy sources into national and international power structures, but it’s equally important to increase awareness of the potential of energy efficiency, because in the end it’s always the contingency with the raw nerve that effectuates change. As the UN’s report warns, “citizens will no longer accept governments and corporations breaching their compact with them as custodians of a sustainable future for all.”
As I noted above, we’re currently living in an era when the public seems ready to champion a cause. We’ve seen this play out on the world’s stage with both the OWS and Arab Spring movements, and we learned earlier this year that sometimes influence can be wielded without ever stepping away from your computer when the successful campaign to stop ratification of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) united hackers, websites, and the public in an effort to stop the anti-piracy measure that many saw as an overstep of federal power.
It’s not inconceivable to think that we could soon witness the same type of massive public outcry that effectively shut down SOPA focused on larger—and more concrete—policy issues, like clean energy and our aging infrastructure. As countries like China, Korea, and India emerge as major competitors in the renewable energy industry, new voices will be added to the chorus for change—both here, and abroad. What those of us in the energy efficiency and energy reliability industry we need to ask ourselves now is are we doing enough preparation and investment to capitalize on the oncoming wave of support for a smarter, sustainable energy future?
Author's Bio: Elizabeth Cutright is the Editor of Distributed Energy magazine and Water Efficiency magazine
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