Please bear with us; this month’s conversation could take a decade or two

Global energy use will grow by more than 50% by 2040. There has never been a more important time to discuss energy efficiency.

Africa has its ‘big 5’ (elephants, rhinos, buffalo, lions and leopards for the record). Energy efficiency also has its big five – steel, chemicals, cement, pulp and paper, and aluminum. Collectively they account around 60% of the world’s industrial energy consumption.

These sectors have been dealing with energy efficiency for years, and have strong measures in place to reduce energy use as a matter of pure economics. Improvements since 1975 have helped reduce the energy needed to produce a ton of crude steel by nearly half.

But despite these gains, industry is using a larger share of the world’s energy – up to around 25% in 2011 compared to 19% in 1990. And aside from the big five, a large number of less energy intense industries are discovering that doing more with less isn’t just a cost advantage, it’s a competitive imperative.

Food and beverage customers want to know how much energy went into their orange juice, not just how many calories will come out of it. Pharmaceutical companies, whose biggest priority was always getting drugs into production as quickly as possible while under patent protection, are discovering the importance of using energy more efficiently.

And today some of the world’s largest and most powerful consumer good buyers including Wal-Mart, Proctor and Gamble, Pepsi, Unilever and Nestle are requiring their suppliers to disclose their carbon and environmental impact. The momentum is there, but there are still huge gaps between the world’s best and those with significant room for improvement.

How are you going to eat the elephant?

I love that question – it came from a friend and former colleague for any situation that seemed unmanageable and complex. Energy efficiency, and energy for that matter, is one of the most complicated social issues we have and inseparably linked to our quality of life, economic opportunities and deeply rooted in our politics.

There are many facets to the energy issue, and strong and vested opinions on all sides. You need to look no further than the recent 36 hour marathon debate of the world’s climate experts in Warsaw, Poland which was able to achieve a fragile and highly compromised consensus.

Reaching a meaningful industrial energy efficiency tipping point is clearly a long game. It’s also not quite a sexy topic compared to electric cars, solar and wind, and rarely gets mainstream media coverage. But it is a workhorse for addressing climate change, and most of the technologies needed are available right now – the short game is there for us, too.

A good starting point to increase the adoption of these solutions is simply to start a conversation to raise the awareness – where are we now? How do we compare to the world’s best? And most importantly, where could we be if we did things better?

So over the next month ABB will be doing just that. We will talk about the policies and politics. We will talk about the technologies and the business case. And hopefully we will encourage industries in many corners of the world to ask the fundamental and critical question “how can we do more while using less energy?”

Keep an eye on throughout January for new answers to this question each day!

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About the author

Philip Lewin

I'm one of the many people sharing ABB's passion and great stories for robotics and industrial ingenu-ity. It’s exciting for me to be at the leading edge of a new age for one of the most fundamental things that people do - we make things. At the same time, the awareness has never been greater that economic progress, higher living standards and new ways of making things cannot come at the expense of our environment. I’m proud to contribute to this exciting and important discussion.
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