Energy efficiency 101: A little guide for big savings

In the symphony that is the energy transition, glamorous renewables take centre stage, often overshadowing one of the orchestra’s main strings: energy efficiency. As winter is upon us, we dive into the five efficiency measures helping citizens slash fossil fuels, energy bills, and air pollution.

Alberto Vela reports for REFEREE.

Less is always more in the realm of energy. 

Picture this: any kilowatt of electricity produced today with renewable energy is cleaner and cheaper than that generated by burning coal or gas. But is there a greener, more affordable kilowatt? Yes. It’s the one we don’t consume — the saved one.

As staggering as it may sound, a whopping 75% of buildings in the EU are considered energy inefficient. Most of our offices, homes and schools guzzle more energy than necessary, contributing to a cocktail of climate-harming emissions, polluted air, and needlessly high bills.

Europe holds vast, untapped potential for energy savings.

Enter efficiency and sufficiency measures—often the unsung heroes of the energy transition saga. Reduced energy demand proved to be crucial to weather the energy crisis last winter, and turned out to be one of the main causes of fossil fuel collapse in electricity generation in Europe.

Furthermore, the ripple effect of diminishing energy consumption directly touches the lives of citizens. Implementing energy efficiency throughout your home has the power to save you thousands of euros per year in bills. It also serves as a guardian of well-being, positively impacting your health and your neighbours. Shockingly, 100,000 premature deaths are attributed to air pollution stemming from inefficient buildings in the EU.

Here is a list of 5 efficiency measures to redefine our relationship with energy:

Upgraded insulation

Think of your home as a fortress against energy waste. The secret weapon for a solid defence? Good insulation.

From sealing cracks to changing windows, a series of renovation steps can transform your living space into an energy-efficient haven. A deep renovation can wield the power to cut energy consumption by a staggering 60%, a financial windfall for the savvy homeowner. Thanks to initiatives like the EU’s renovation wave, financial support to fortify your house against unnecessary energy leaks is available in several countries and regions.

Lastly, it’s worth stressing that insulation can also occur in some heritage buildings when applied to intra-wall cavities.

Renewable heating

Heating and cooling devour nearly half of the EU’s energy consumption. The solution? Shifting from inefficient gas or oil boilers to renewable heating devices.

From geothermal or air-driven heat pumps, which run on electricity, to solar-thermal pumps, which use direct renewable power to function, the range of clean heating alternatives is large and suits all types of house.

Connecting your home to renewable energies, and switching off the gas grid, is a highly efficient choice that can deliver an 84% reduction in energy bills.

Smart living: monitor, save, repeat

Welcome to the era of smart living, where technology puts the power in your hands.

Smart devices empower you to track your energy consumption, make informed decisions, and enjoy the sweet sound of money saved. Smart thermostats will let you set up a schedule for when your heating comes on and turns off, and control the average temperature. Meanwhile, smart meters will help you to monitor your electricity consumption.

A+ appliances

Have you ever paid attention to energy labels while shopping for home appliances? The golden rule: A+ appliances are the true energy efficiency champions.

According to a recent study from BEUC, a European household equipped with top energy-class appliances could save up to €2,450 in annual energy bills. Even meeting minimum energy-efficiency standards could be a financial game-changer, saving nearly €900 off your annual energy bills.

Heating and lighting are the appliances that have the biggest impact on a household’s annual energy costs, so this is where eco-design can make the biggest savings. But opting for other electronic appliances labelled with the highest efficiency, such as fridges, televisions, and washing machines could also help reduce consumers’ annual energy bills by 15%.

Sustainable mobility

Take a moment to reflect on your daily commute from an energy perspective.

The car is the predominant mode of transport in the EU. However, it typically carries fewer than 2 people on average per car, and, in 80% of cases, covers distances of less than 10 km. How efficient is it for Europeans to move a two-tonne mass, for just one or two people, during short commutes?

By opting for walking, cycling, micro-mobility, or public transport for short distances, you could not only save money on expensive fuels but also contribute to more breathable air quality in urban areas.

For medium and long distances, there is a mode of transport with no rival in energy efficiency: trains. On average, trains are at least 12 times more energy efficient per passenger than air travel.

In the great transformation of the energy world we are going through, achieving the same results with less energy is not just feasible: it is a collective responsibility. Let’s prioritise energy efficiency, not just for our pockets but for the health of our communities and the planet. It’s time to empower our lives with less and better-used energy.