Columnists: Hans Nilsson, Fourfact

Published on: 13 Sep 2022

Who needs Russia's fossil fuels?

The simple answer is – No one!

The energy problem we currently are facing is framed in terms we know well – but this framework basically wrong. Listen to your local news or open your newspaper and see how they all discuss the crisis in terms of energy supply. They primarily focus on  the consumer price, alternative supply options, alternative energy suppliers. We need more gas they say, we need gas of a different type, we have to pay the escalating price, we have to face the winter freezing and our industry will have to reduce output … and on and on it goes.

Well, as Greta would say: “Blah, Blah, Blah!”  They are basically wrong!

We are considered to be prisoners of Putin and current circumstances. They push the panic button without looking at the whole picture. No one mentions the real answer to the problem we have – Energy Efficiency

Well, it is not new and was considered an important tool during the first two oil crises of the 1970s. Somehow energy efficiency to address energy security has been forgotten a long tim. The reason is a psychological trap and it is also quite understandable to a point. It might be simpler to think in terms of fighting fuel shortage with more or different fuels, but not with improved energy efficiency. Even many of our leaders say that the response to the problem of gas supply shortage is to put on an extra sweater! In the short run an extra sweater could be a good idea, but in a longer run there is so much else to do!

A decade ago the International Energy Agency (IEA) showed that with existing conditions, energy efficiency was the a profitable option that could reduce energy use by up to 50% in all sectors! So much the more profitable now! 

Many governments are now considering to subsidise consumer energy prices! That is not the right way forward. Rather we should subsidise energy efficiency to improve buildings, industries and vehicles to make them more efficient while finding means to protect the most vulnerable. Try more clever engineering!

Many think that improving energy efficiency is too difficult. And yes it is complicated, but not too complicated! It will require expertise. It will require all sorts of expertise. Mostly engineering but also economic and behavioural expertise.

It will require the expertise that eceee has in abundance and it will require that we steer away from the simplistic responses that trick us into hopes that we just have to swing a magic wand to solve all problems. Energy efficiency will, however, solve many more problems than the ones we have on our minds right now. Like costs, environment, sustainability and jobs! How about that?

It is time for more clever engineering! 

It is sometimes said that the difference between natural sciences and engineering is that the former answers the question “know why” and the latter the question “know how”. Nowadays most of the energy problems are left to yet another discipline, namely economics.  A cynic (like me) might say that the economics rather deals with “guess what” without knowing the answer.  

Now when we are facing energy problems with Russia most media turn to economists with questions what the solution might be, and the response is mostly a variation that has to do with supply and how the consumer price could be reduced. Reducing costs is almost never mentioned. For too many the need of energy is something that is regarded as static, almost as a part of the creation by God. We who know what energy efficiency can deliver, however, still think that the answer to the question of how the higher prices can be handled is to reduce demand. It is not the price that is the problem; it is the costs!

The views expressed in this column are those of the columnist and do not necessarily reflect the views of eceee or any of its members.

Other columns by Hans Nilsson