Saving energy in a hurry

Saving Electricity in a Hurry: Dealing with Temporary Shortfalls on Electricity Suppliers
OECD Observer

When the lights go out, our usual solution is to check the light bulbs, the connections, the fuse box, and often relieve the overload by switching something off. Likewise, when a blackout occurs because of a drag on the grid, a quick fix means cutting consumption.

Persistent shortfalls – those lasting days, weeks, or months – can cause economic disruption and even danger to human life in our technology-rich societies. Saving Electricity in a Hurry from The International Energy Agency describes some of the recent power shortfalls, from Norway to New Zealand, from Tokyo to Arizona, and the policies these regions used to reduce their power consumption quickly. How did the Swedes cut their power consumption by 4% in only three days? How did California save 14% of their electricity supply in only a few months? How can the temporary shortfalls in electricity supplies described in this book disproportionately shape future energy policies?

Saving Electricity in a Hurry shows that countries can quickly reduce electricity consumption without harming the economy as much as blackouts or unplanned curtailments might. The strategies are diverse, unique and often surprisingly cheap. They include mass media campaigns, improvements in equipment efficiency and quickly adjusting electricity prices. This book explains how California replaced a million traffic signals with energy-saving models, how millions of Tokyo residents raised their thermostat settings, and how New-Zealanders took shorter showers, all quickly enough to help avoid imminent blackouts. Finally, it connects these policies to the traditional goal of “saving electricity slowly”.

After the 1970s oil shocks, ways of saving oil in a hurry became a concern of governments around the world. In the past 30 years, disruptions affecting world oil supply and prices have occurred fairly regularly, with on average two to three significant episodes per decade. In each instance, supplies of retail fuel have dropped and oil prices have risen. How can governments handle this market volatility?

Saving Oil in a Hurry looks at potential oil savings and cost-effectiveness of demand restraint programmes, as IEA countries are required to have programmes in place that could reduce oil demand by 7-10% in the event of a supply disruption. This applies to private vehicle use in particular, as the transport sector accounts for over half of oil use in IEA countries. Some measures, like reducing speed limits and encouraging the use of alternative fuels, may make sense under any circumstances. For instance, fuel use can be reduced by 10-20% for those who practise “eco-driving”, using the car in the most energy-saving way possible. In the US during the 1970s fuel shortage, a national speed limit of 55mph (90km/h) showed an estimated saving of 363,000 barrels of oil a day.

Other steps, such as rationing petrol or even rationing car use, are primarily useful in emergency situations. Yet all measures, including telecommuting, eco-driving and car-pooling, can be implemented on short notice–if governments are ready.

Saving Electricity: ISBN 978 9264109455.

Saving Oil: ISBN 978 9264109412.

©OECD Observer No 250, July 2005

Economic data


Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Suscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To receive your exclusive print editions delivered to you directly

Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • Africa's cities at the forefront of progress: Africa is urbanising at a historically rapid pace coupled with an unprecedented demographic boom. By 2050, about 56% of Africans are expected to live in cities. This poses major policy challenges, but make no mistake: Africa’s cities and towns are engines of progress that, if harnessed correctly, can fuel the entire continent’s sustainable development.
  • “Nizip” refugee camp visit
    July 2016: OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría visits the “Nizip” refugee camp, situated between Gaziantep and the Turkish-Syrian border, accompanied by Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Şimşek. The camp accommodates a small number of the 2.75 million Syrians currently registered in Turkey, mostly outside the camps. In his tour of the camp, Mr Gurría visits a school, speaks with refugees and gives a short interview.
  • OECD Observer i-Sheet Series: OECD Observer i-Sheets are smart contents pages on major issues and events. Use them to find current or recent articles, video, books and working papers. To browse on paper and read on line, or simply download.
  • Queen Maxima of the Netherlands gives a speech next to Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto (not pictured) during the International Forum of Financial Inclusion at the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico June 21, 2016.
  • How sustainable is the ocean as a source of economic development? The Ocean Economy in 2030 examines the risks and uncertainties surrounding the future development of ocean industries, the innovations required in science and technology to support their progress, their potential contribution to green growth and some of the implications for ocean management.
  • OECD Environment Director Simon Upton presented a talk at Imperial College London on 21 April 2016. With the world awash in surplus oil and prices languishing around US$40 per barrel, how can governments step up efforts to transform the world’s energy systems in line with the Paris Agreement?
  • Happy 10th birthday to Twitter. This 2008 OECD Observer interview with Henry Copeland said you’d do well.
  • The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. The gender portal monitors the progress made by governments to promote gender equality in both OECD and non-OECD countries and provides good practices based on analytical tools and reliable data.
  • Once migrants reach Europe, countries face integration challenge: OECD's Thomas Liebig speaks to NPR's Audie Cornish.

  • Message from the International Space Station to COP21

  • The carbon clock is ticking: OECD’s Gurría on CNBC

  • If we want to reach zero net emissions by the end of the century, we must align our policies for a low-carbon economy, put a price on carbon everywhere, spend less subsidising fossil fuels and invest more in clean energy. OECD at #COP21 – OECD statement for #COP21
  • They are green and local --It’s a new generation of entrepreneurs in Kenya with big dreams of sustainable energy and the drive to see their innovative technologies throughout Africa.
  • Pole to Paris Project
  • In order to face global warming, Asia needs at least $40 billion per year, derived from both the public and private sector. Read how to bridge the climate financing gap on the Asian Bank of Development's website.
  • How can cities fight climate change?
    Discover projects in Denmark, Canada, Australia, Japan and Mexico.
  • Climate: What's changed, what hasn't, what we can do about it.
    Lecture by OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, hosted by the London School of Economics and Aviva Investors in association with ClimateWise, London, UK, 3 July 2015.
  • Is technological progress slowing down? Is it speeding up? At the OECD, we believe the research from our Future of ‪Productivity‬ project helps to resolve this paradox.
  • Is inequality bad for growth? That redistribution boosts economies is not established by the evidence says FT economics editor Chris Giles. Read more on
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at .

Most Popular Articles


What issue are you most concerned about in 2016?

Euro crisis
International conflict
Global warming

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2016