Energy Efficiency

Standard Page - 2006-01-17
Energy efficiency is a very broad term referring to the many different ways we can get the same amount of work (light, heat, motion, etc.) done with less energy. It covers efficient cars, energy-saving lights, improved industrial practices, better building insulation and a host of other technologies. Since saving energy and saving money often amount to the same thing, energy efficiency is highly profitable.

Energy efficiency is a very broad term referring to the many different ways we can get the same amount of work (light, heat, motion, etc.) done with less energy. It covers efficient cars, energy-saving lights, improved industrial practices, better building insulation and a host of other technologies. Since saving energy and saving money often amount to the same thing, energy efficiency is highly profitable.

14 February 2011 Valentine's Day Projection in China

The Greenpeace flagship Rainbow Warrior projects the message of “Forget Nuclear, Love Energy Efficiency!” onto the Hong Kong Cultural Centre. The light projecting action is held on Valentines’ Day, and is directed towards the Symphony of Lights, the world’s largest electricity-hogging light and sound show. The projection urges the SAR government to immediately push for comprehensive energy efficiency and stop plans to expand nuclear energy as a solution to curb climate change.

Better with less

Energy efficiency often has multiple positive effects. For example, an efficient clothes-washing machine or dishwasher also uses less water.

Efficiency also usually provides a higher level of comfort. For example, a well-insulated house will feel warmer in the winter, cooler in the summer and be healthier to live in. An efficient refrigerator will make less noise, have no frost inside, no condensation outside and will likely last longer. Efficient lighting will offer more light where you need it. Efficiency is thus really "better with less".

Efficiency has enormous potential. Just simple actions can help you improve the efficiency of your home, such as putting additional insulation on the roof, using super-insulating glazing or buying a high-efficiency washing machine when the old one wears out. All of these examples will save both money and energy.

But the biggest savings will not be found in such incremental steps. The real gains come from rethinking the whole concept, e.g. "the whole house", "the whole car" or even "the whole transport system". This can, surprisingly often, cut back energy needs by 4 to 10 times of current levels.

Take the example of a house. By properly insulating the whole outer shell (from roof to basement), the demand for heat will be so low that you can install a smaller and cheaper heating system – offsetting the cost of the extra insulation. The result is a house that needs only one-third of standard heating energy without being any more expensive to build. By insulating even further and installing a high-efficiency ventilation system, heating is reduced to one-tenth. Thousands of these super-efficient houses have been successfully built in Europe over the last 10 years. This is no dream for the future, but part of everyday life for those thousands of families.

Moving forward

If cutting energy use makes such great economic sense, why isn't everyone doing it? In the short-term, people often only see the high costs of energy efficiency investments, while the saving  savings are only realized in the mid- and long-term.

To truly tap efficiency's massive potential, effective government policy is needed. To that end, the single most important step is standards of minimal efficiency for houses, offices, cars, electric appliances, etc. Consumers have the right to expect that the products they buy meet certain minimum standards. There are, for example, already minimum safety standards. Yet, standards for energy efficiency are too often neglected by governments, or are far too weak. Governments should also seize additional policy opportunities to promote continued innovation and improvement in efficiency technologies.

In Hong Kong, we are campaigning for the government to establish greater energy efficiency standards to reduce projected energy demands. While the government believes increasing nuclear power is necessary to meet energy demand in 2020, Greenpeace is pushing for the overhaul of HK's wasteful buildings and businesses to reduce our energy needs.

For more examples of energy efficiency, see our what you can do page, which has 12 practical steps you can take to reduce your own electricity consumption 4-10 times.

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