What is Energy Efficiency and Why it’s Important

What is Energy Efficiency and Why it’s Important

what is energy efficiency

Energy Efficiency is one of those phrases we come across all the time these days. With the way companies love to throw it onto product labels or slip it into their advertising, you might think it’s little more than an industry buzzword that will fade into obscurity in due time. The truth, however, is that it’s anything but.

What is energy efficiency? In short, it’s the practice of minimizing energy use without enduring a loss in quality. Put another way, something earns the “energy efficient” label if it uses less energy than its traditional competitors, but does as good a job as they do at providing the same service.

To explain this a little better, imagine yourself carrying a big heavy rock. You can lift it and walk it to its destination, but you’ll be pretty tired by the time you get there. Alternatively, you could plop the stone down in a wheelbarrow and glide it there with relative ease.

The end result is the same—the rock is taken to its destination—but the latter method requires less energy… you aren’t exhausted and gasping for air when all is said and done.

Energy efficiency techniques put that same principle to work with your utilities. You get the same quality and consistency as a more traditional item, but it uses less energy.

This shouldn’t be confused with Energy Conservation, however. Energy conservation is more about reducing energy use by any means, regardless of output quality. It involves changes in your behavior, like adjusting the thermostat, or using less water for dishes, or turning lights out around the house. Energy efficiency doesn’t necessarily involve any of that extra stuff.

Should You Prioritize Energy Efficiency?

Many businesses and homeowners are hesitant about making the transition into energy efficiency. There’s an undeniable sticker shock that comes with it; the technology going into energy efficient products do come with a steeper initial investment, and that is enough to turn some consumers off at first.

It’s important to remember, though, that energy efficiency does come with big savings down the road. Long term, you end up saving so much in energy costs that you’ll not only break even but see a significant return on your investment over time.

Let’s illuminate this with an example, shall we? In one corner, we have a classic incandescent light bulb (those are very difficult to find these days, but we digress). In the other, you have a modern LED light bulb.

They both produce the same amount of light—about 800 lumens, for those of you who want to get technical—and they’ll both fit in all of the same fixtures and lamps. At face value, the thing that sets them apart is their upfront costs. The LED bulb is going to cost a little more than the incandescent bulb. You’re paying more for the same amount of light as the cheaper, more traditional bulb.

This is where things get interesting, though: that LED bulb only requires 10 watts of electricity to operate, as opposed to the 60 watts required by the incandescent bulb. So right out of the gate, the LED bulb is using less power overall. That means the LED bulb is going to add six times less to your monthly electric bill.

The savings don’t end there, either. The LED bulb is going to last 25 times longer than the incandescent bulb, meaning you won’t need to replace it as often. That initial cost suddenly seems paltry in comparison to how much you’re saving overall, doesn’t it?

Additionally, energy efficiency is a crucial tactic in the fight against climate change. The International Energy Agency (IEA), who played a role in the landmark Paris Agreements, have conducted research into the vast impact of energy efficiency in a global energy transition. “Energy efficiency is the one energy resource that all countries possess in abundance,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA Executive Director. “I welcome the improvement in global energy efficiency, particularly at a time of lower energy prices. This is a sign that many governments push the energy efficiency policies, and it works.” Research suggests that the implementation of energy efficiency in everything from home insulation to vehicle’s use of fuel can help reduce carbon emissions by over 10% by 2020.

What About the Environment?

So far we’ve asked the question “what is energy efficiency” in the context of what it means to you personally, as a consumer. But there’s surely a swath of you asking the question “what is energy efficiency” in another context: how it affects the environment.

Put simply, using less energy means less energy needs to be generated. And that, in turn, results in fewer greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, particularly when more of us decide to make the leap toward greener practices. It also translates into less air and water pollution in general from fossil fuel plants.

According to the Department of Energy, “Energy efficiency is one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to combat climate change, clean the air we breathe, improve the competitiveness of our businesses and reduce energy costs for consumers.”

what is energy efficiency
President Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande at the U.N. conference on climate change

The International Energy Agency (IEA) compiled mountains of research while working on the landmark Paris Agreement, which aims to unify the world’s nations and thwart climate change in a massive collective effort. They concluded that energy efficiency isn’t just helpful in combating climate change and protecting our environment … it’s essential.

“Energy efficiency is the one energy resource that all countries possess in abundance,” says IEA Executive Director Dr. Fatih Birol. “I welcome the improvement in global energy efficiency, particularly at a time of lower energy prices. This is a sign that many governments push the energy efficiency policies, and it works.”

Businesses are Fighting Climate Change, Too

The financial benefits of improving energy efficiency haven’t been lost on the world’s businesses. Companies looking to shave the dead weight of unnecessary expenditures are usually pretty quick to adopt energy efficiency practices. And those efforts aren’t just good for their bottom line. They’re good for our environment, too.

Businesses both big and small tend to use more energy than most individuals or families do, with the exception of some small businesses of course. So when a retail or office space reduces their carbon footprint, the results can yield significant benefits for the environment.

In terms of industrial energy use, energy efficiency packs an even bigger punch. Energy Intensity is a technical phrase that broadly defines the amount of energy used per unit of GDP. According to the IEA, this number has been steadily on the rise in recent years as more and more companies adopt energy-saving practices and utilize efficient technology.

As the IEA puts it, improvements in energy intensity mean less energy is required by the global economy for growth. Industrial efficiency fueled by renewable energy can, in time, play a pivotal role in combating climate change on a global scale.

It’s a win-win for those businesses, too, as they reduce their costs with each new efficient practice they adopt. Some businesses have reported reducing their energy needs by a quarter. And for a bigger corporation, those savings can be monumental.

How Can You Be Energy Efficient?

With energy efficiency standards affecting 30 percent of global energy use, it’s safe to say most of you reading this are already engaging in some form of energy efficiency, even if you don’t realize it. But there’s always room for improvement, right?

Starting out small on your path toward energy efficiency is surprisingly easy, especially given all the energy efficient products on the market.

Remember those LED light bulbs we mentioned earlier? Those, as well as fluorescent lights, are good places to start. Replacing your light bulbs gradually with efficient ones will yield instant, noticeable results; you’ll see your financial savings in your utility bills pretty quickly.

Investments in energy efficiency make the most sense when you’re planning out home renovations. Utilizing energy efficient appliances and improving your heating and cooling efficiency will make significant dents in your energy bills, as will investing in insulation and efficient windows.

If you’re especially serious about dialing back your carbon emissions, driving as little as possible will go a long way toward reducing your personal carbon footprint. Try walking or riding a bike to nearby destinations, using public transportation whenever and wherever possible, and driving a vehicle with good fuel efficiency only when you have no other choice.

Want more ideas? Check out Benefyd’s guide to 100 Ways to Improve Your Home’s Energy Efficiency. 

Become an Ambassador of Earth

Whether you’re investing in energy efficiency to save money or save our planet, the benefits of “going green” are simply irrefutable. What rational argument could possibly be made against shrinking utility bills, reducing carbon emissions, and avoiding polluting our air and water?

Going green doesn’t require painful sacrifices, and you don’t have to do all of it this very second either. The most important thing you should take away from all this is that energy efficiency is a scalable concept, and it isn’t binary. You don’t need to go all in on day one and, to be perfectly honest, you rightly shouldn’t.

From replacing that aging incandescent light bulb in the lamp in your den to setting up an efficient air conditioning system throughout your home, each step toward energy efficiency should be coupled with a bit of thought, research, and planning. Well, okay… maybe not the light bulbs.  Those are pretty straightforward. But it never hurts to research brands, read a few articles penned by experts, and consult with people who’ve been down this path already.

“What is energy efficiency?” In due time, someone will inevitably ask you that question, perhaps after you’ve humbly bragged a little about the money you’ve saved. Even if you think climate change is a “hoax” and you’re only interested in the financial benefits of going green, ask yourself: what’s the harm in telling others about your experiences? In the very least, you’re saving them money. And those of us who do believe in climate change will happily thank you for spreading the word as well.