The IEA valued worldwide energy efficiency investments in 2011 at $300 billion (€221bn), a level on a par with global funding of renewable energy and fossil fuel power sources.
“Energy efficiency has been called a 'hidden fuel', yet it is hiding in plain sight,” said the IEA’s executive director Maria van der Hoeven, at a presentation for the paper in Korea.
“Indeed, the degree of global investment in energy efficiency and the resulting energy savings are so massive that they beg the following question: Is energy efficiency not just a hidden fuel but rather the world's first fuel?” she asked.
Between 2005 and 2010, 11 of the IEA member states made energy savings equal to $420 billion (€310bn), higher than from any other single fuel source. Without this, the countries would now be consuming about two-thirds more energy than at present.
Since 1974, energy savings in the 11 countries avoided the burning of 1.5 billion tones of oil equivalent, according to the IEA's Energy Efficiency Market Report 2013.
It finds that an absence of dynamic pricing in energy markets together with subsidies, high transaction costs, information failures and a lack of institutional capacity can sometimes impede efficiency improvements.
But it also cites a general growth of the efficiency market, due to effective government policies and high energy prices. Energy standards, labelling, access to assessments and financing, and obligations on suppliers have also proved “crucial”, the paper says.
While traditional appliance markets may seem static, energy efficient products and ICT equipment are growth areas, it says.
Ecodesign heating appliances vote
An obscure vote at an EU regulation committee on ecodesign requirements on 10 October though, gave a flavour of some of the obstacles still facing the sector.
Member states’ representatives elected to remove all small and local space ‘solid fuel’ heaters from the Ecodesign Directive’s scope, as they could not agree on relevant air pollution requirements.
The officials also reduced energy savings requirements for the smallest local space heaters that run on electricity and gas from a proposed 36% to 31%. Efficiency advocates say this is a particular problem as electric heaters have already been exempted from energy labeling schemes.
The European Commission had suggested requiring a label on product packages, warning that the heater’s energy performance was equivalent to a bottom-of-the-table ‘G’ grade.
Even this marked a substantial climb down from the Commission's original goals.
But the committee, led by the EU’s southern nations, voted to restrict the labels to portable space heaters, and delay their implementation from 2016 to 2018.
As these are the cheapest appliances on the market, consumer groups say that they could now be unwittingly bought by shoppers believing them to have a better energy saving record than they do, in fact.
“The member states have missed an opportunity and will now continue to cause problems for Europe’s citizens, such as higher air pollution levels and higher energy bills,” said Stephane Arditi, coordinator for the Coolproducts campaign group.
Electricity should only be encouraged for use with products such as TV’s and fridges where no alternatives were available, he argued. Space heaters could be powered by gas and other fuels.
“As of today I don’t have any signal as a consumer telling me if a small electric room heater is a bad performer because of this watering down of the ecodesign requirement’s minimum energy efficiency performance,” he told EurActiv.
EU sources contacted by EurActiv declined to comment on the vote, but one official said that the bloc’s Ecodesign measures would, after a review in 2014, still bring cumulative energy savings of 771 Terrawatt hours a year by 2020 and should thus be viewed positively.
“It is quite a substantial energy saving,” the official said. “We are happy that we are progressing in the right direction on this file.”