Our Perspectives


Making energy efficiency visible

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kids in classroomIn an Uzbekistan school, the implementation of simple energy efficiency measures increased the classroom’s temperature from 10°C to 20°C, making for a much more comfortable learning environment. Photo: UNDP

In this blog series, UNDP experts and practitioners share their perspective on issues of climate change, in the lead up to COP21 in December.

The buildings where we live and work are responsible for over one-third of global energy needs and a correspondingly high share of CO2 emissions.

Improving the energy efficiency in buildings is one of the most cost-effective climate mitigation solutions we have: one “negawatt” of saved energy costs much less to produce than generating a new watt from conventional or even alternative energy sources. In Eastern Europe and Central Asia, there is a vast number of highly inefficient buildings, and a tremendous potential for greenhouse gas emission reduction and the production of negawatts.

As a member of UNDP’s Sustainable Energy team in Europe and Central Asia, I’ve been part of the effort to unlock this potential, and have learned many important lessons along the way.

One major challenge with negawatts is that you can’t “see” them in the conventional sense; and if you can’t see them, you can’t sell them as a goal to both the public and private sectors. We need to make energy efficiency visible through systems like the Energy Management Information System (EMIS), which enables real-time monitoring and management of energy use in buildings.

With this system, Croatia has been able to measure the savings it has earned by using energy efficient buildings: public spending on energy has been reduced by US$18 million per year, with over $30 million being invested in increasing energy efficiency. Croatia’s EMIS has been so successful in showing the benefits of negawatts that it is being replicated in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia.

A second challenge with encouraging the “production” of negawatts is that those who save energy are often not the ones constructing the building. Policies must include energy efficient building codes to ensure that a culture of energy efficiency is achieved. In Uzbekistan, UNDP’s work with the Government led to the adoption of new energy building codes; as a result, all publicly financed new and renovated buildings now consume 25 to 50 percent less energy than buildings built before the reforms. These efficiency improvements yield 36 million tonnes of avoided CO2 emissions over the lifetimes of new buildings (this is just a bit less than the city of London’s annual carbon footprint).

But before such policies and programs can even be put in place, governments must be willing to make upfront investments in energy efficiency. This is asking a lot, especially of poor countries and communities. A large part of our work has been dedicated to finding ways to convince communities to bear relatively high upfront costs. We have worked with national authorities to make the case for public investment in energy efficiency. In Kazakhstan, after a pilot investment supported by the Global Environment Facility, a newly-adopted state program on utilities modernization has allocated about US$48 million to energy efficiency upgrades in buildings.

Lastly, communities must be shown that energy efficient buildings are good for more than just the climate. Much of our work is fairly technical and can sometimes seem abstract, but the photograph above reveals the tangible benefits to energy efficiency. The 2011 photograph on the left (of a classroom in Uzbekistan) shows students wearing sweaters and hats during class because the heating system was so inefficient. In the 2013 photograph on the right, after the implementation of simple energy efficiency measures, the classroom’s temperature increased from 10°C to 20°C, making for a much more comfortable learning environment.

Many Eastern European and Central Asian countries have placed energy-efficient buildings at the forefront of their climate change commitments ahead of COP21. My colleagues and I look forward to helping our partners scale-up their mitigation efforts in the coming decades.

In the lead-up to the COP21 Paris climate change conference, UNDP's experts and practitioners highlight the challenges and opportunities in addressing this global concern. For more information, visit http://www.undp.org/cop21

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