Covid-19 and energy efficiency developments

When the pandemic ends, energy efficiency improvements will be more important than ever.

The effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on economies worldwide has been immense and the energy sector has suffered momentous setbacks. Back in June 2020, an article by the IEA (International Energy Agency) opened with the words: “The Covid-19 pandemic is having a major impact on energy systems around the world, curbing investments and threatening to slow the expansion of key clean energy technologies.”

Titled “The Impact of the Covid-19 Crisis on Clean Energy,” the article dealt with what the authors saw as the ten key emerging trends resulting from the pandemic which related to sustainability and energy usage. The IEA explained that prior to the pandemic, energy efficiency initiatives globally had not met the necessary targets, and that the situation had worsened amid the Covid-19 crisis.

The article continued by stating: “In this environment, policies to incentivise building, technology and infrastructure upgrades across different parts of the economy are crucial and can benefit efficiency, jobs and economies. Maintaining and strengthening standards for appliances, building equipment and vehicles will be important over the long term to sustain jobs and efficiency improvements.”

Furthermore, the authors of a recent contribution to National Geographic Magazine warned against the assumption that Covid-19 lockdowns could have a significant impact on carbon emissions reduction. “Global emissions were projected to peak in 2024, but COVID-19 could accelerate the process. This year’s decline might herald an earlier transition to falling CO2 levels. Reflecting no structural changes, however, 2020 lockdown-driven declines are unstable and temporary. Looking forward, keeping global warming below 2°C above pre-industrial levels is achievable, but would require immediate, drastic emissions cuts, sustained year after year for decades, until net emissions are zero.”

Economic and environmental gains

The quest for energy efficiency in appliances, covering a wide range of products, is what drove the ErP (Energy-related Products) Directive, which this blog was set up to comment about, particularly in relation to the HVAC industry. However, as the IEA indicated, energy efficiency improvements are required over a range of sectors and HVAC in industrial and commercial buildings must be a key priority.

However, as we said in our blog entry on energy efficiency at the beginning of this year: “The difference between moves towards energy efficiency and many other measures to curb carbon emissions is that there can be economic benefits that frequently come about in a relatively short period of time.”

For industrial and commercial buildings, the installation or retrofitting of an energy-efficient heating system can achieve significant reductions in operating costs as well as delivering environmental benefits. For instance, it has been continually demonstrated that installing a system of Schwank gas-fired infrared radiant plaque or tube heaters can offer a rapid return on investment for the owners and managers of these premises.

Commenting on their study about rebuilding the UK economy post Covid-19, Energy UK explained that: “The report states that an ambitious national programme to retrofit housing with energy efficiency measures, alongside the continuing installation of smart meters, would quickly create long term employment while cutting bills by hundreds of pounds for customers and reducing emissions.”

Energy efficiency improvements in residential and non-residential buildings can benefit the national economy, the environment and the finances of energy consumers. When we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, these factors will become ever more important.

Energy Efficiency is a Top Priority for 2020

The IEA (International Energy Agency) report “Energy Efficiency 2019” has extremely disappointing findings about worldwide progress towards this all important objective.

Commenting on the report, the IEA’s Executive Director stated that “The historic slowdown in energy efficiency – the lowest rate of improvement since the start of the decade – calls for bold action by policy makers and investors.”

A number of reasons are cited for this poor energy efficiency performance, ranging from rising industrial production in the USA and China to the impact of weather conditions and from consumer preference for larger cars to the increase in device ownership.

Many factors have been responsible for thwarting the aim of the IEA’s Efficient World Strategy to achieve a 3% average annual improvement in energy efficiency.

Lost economic opportunity

The report further states that the poor results have been a lost opportunity for the global economy, claiming that: “The 1.2% improvement in energy intensity equated to around $1.6 trillion more GDP for the amount of energy used compared to 2017.

“However this figure could have been $4 trillion – an amount greater than the size of the German economy – had energy intensity improved at 3% every year since 2015.”

It has to be acknowledged that achieving the targets for reduction in global carbon emissions under the Paris Agreement of 2015 will be a major challenge. However, the IEA report did indicate that technical efficiency and digitalisation had been positive factors in driving energy efficiency, which are hopeful signs.

The difference between moves towards energy efficiency and many other measures to curb carbon emissions is that there can be economic benefits that frequently come about in a relatively short period of time.

Advances in HVAC technology

The Business Utility Consultancy Inenco Group has produced an informative report titled “A Focus on Commercial and Industrial Buildings” in which it recorded, along with other useful data relating to the UK, that: “Our commercial buildings have become more efficient in the way they use energy, which helps to reduce emissions and also cuts energy bills. The energy efficiency of non-domestic buildings has been improved since 1990, with emissions 18% lower in 2015.”

In a previous blog on this website we discussed the potential of cogeneration (CHP) units in the latest technological developments leading to improved energy usage. This is one of a range of advances in the HVAC sector.

Schwank is a market leader in the manufacture of gas fired infrared heating and cooling systems for commercial and industrial buildings, and energy efficiency has been a major objective for the company in its product development for many years. It is also indisputable that energy efficiency is a top priority for Schwank in 2020.

Cogeneration and Energy Efficiency

cogeneration of heat and power

The opening paragraphs of the EU Energy Efficiency Directive (2012/27/EU) emphasise the priority that is given to energy efficiency in the EU’s environmental strategy. To quote: “One of the initiatives of the Europe 2020 Strategy is the flagship resource-efficient Europe adopted by the Commission on 26 January 2011. This identifies energy efficiency as a major element in ensuring the sustainability of the use of energy resources.”

The ErP (Energy-related Products) regulations have been the primary focus of this blog and play an important role in this strategy, reducing energy consumption produced by a wide range of products. However, these ErP efficiency standards form part of a number of complementary initiatives that drive forward ambitions for a carbon-neutral future.

The Energy Efficiency Directive urged member states to assess opportunities for the promotion of cogeneration as a highly effective means of generating power while also capturing waste energy for heating. In a useful guidance titled “Cogeneration of Heat and Power” it was estimated that cogeneration plants could achieve energy efficiency levels of around 90%. The article also advised that small cogeneration facilities could “also be an effective way to supply energy to remote areas without the need for expensive grid infrastructure.”

However, with advances in technology and increasing interest from industry and commerce, the potential market for small cogeneration units has greatly increased beyond their application in remote and rural areas.

A rising force in energy supply

Schwank has launched a range of cogeneration units that can be an ideal means of generating electricity and providing heat for industrial and commercial buildings. These products also have the potential of meeting the requirements of a range of other applications such as supplying efficient sources of energy for schools and hospitals.

Giving the estimate of a likely 20% of generated energy being supplied by CHP and other cogeneration solutions by the year 2025, Schwank explains that: “A cogeneration unit is the ideal solution for all those who want to reduce long-term energy costs and disconnect themselves from further rises in electricity prices.”

When combined with the environmental benefits of energy efficiency and carbon emissions reduction, cogeneration has tremendous benefits to offer and has a great potential as an increasingly important element in energy supply.