We should pursue energy efficiency rather than electrification.

Efficiency should be pursued, but cannot eliminate emissions alone. Electrification offers an ideal partner to energy efficiency measures, often helping to improve efficiency and decarbonise residual energy demand in one step.

Improvements in energy efficiency are critical in meeting Europe’s climate goals, but even the Commission’s ambitions 2030 scenarios, which achieve an energy efficiency target of 32.5%, result in a final energy demand for 2030 that is 84% of demand in 2020. Energy efficiency alone, therefore, cannot decarbonise the economy.

Electrification provides an ideal partner to energy efficiency because it often both directly improves efficiency and decarbonises the remaining energy demand. Take electric vehicles for example. Conventional petrol vehicles convert 12-30% of the energy stored in the petrol to power at the wheels. Electric vehicles, in contrast, convert over 77% of the energy drawn from the grid to power at the wheels, an enormous efficiency gain. Nor is this, by any means, the only example. Modern gas boilers, for example, are capable of achieving impressive efficiencies approaching 90%. However, these are nothing compared to the roughly 300% efficiency achieved by air source heat pumps, which can output more heat than the actual amount of electricity consumed. These examples help to show just how powerful electrification can be as a means to improve energy efficiency while also enabling the complete decarbonisation of the remaining energy demand.

References:

European Commission, “Technical Note: Results of the EUCO3232.5 Scenario on Member States,” 6.

U.S. Department of Energy, “All-Electric Vehicles,” accessed April 15, 2020, https://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/evtech.shtml.

Currie & Brown, “The Costs and Benefits of Tighter Standards for New Buildings,” 27–28.