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

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