Interview with Ambassador Richard Jones of the IEA at EEGlobal 2010. Jones speaks to us about the role of the IEA and the importance of energy efficiency.
Ben Lack: We’re here with Ambassador Jones, Deputy Executive Director of the International Energy Agency. Thanks so much for giving us some of your time.
Richard Jones: My pleasure.
Ben Lack: What I want to talk to you today about is what types of initiatives does the IEA have for pushing energy efficiency to its constituents?
Richard Jones: Well, we have a number of different programs and initiatives in the energy efficiency area. The sort of the flagship of our energy efficiency efforts relate to what we call the twenty-five recommendations. And, basically, these are recommendations that we have made originally to the G8 but also our member countries. In seven different sectors to promote energy efficiency, for example, buildings, appliances, lighting, transport, industry, of course, cross-cutting areas and also for utilities. And so those seven areas we have a total of twenty-five recommendations. Of course, our recommendations are largely generic because they’re for our entire membership which is twenty-eight countries. And so in some areas they’re more appropriate for this country or that country. But, basically, things like recommending for vehicles that you have a fuel-mileage standards for maintenance or inflation of tires, things like that. Sometimes erode standards might be it. Lighting, for example, we are proponents of phasing out incandescent lighting. We did a book a few years ago that we called Light’s Labour’s Lost which pointed out how much energy was being wasted through inefficient lighting. And largely as a result of that effort, the European Union subsequently decided to phase out incandescent lighting, and that actually has occurred in Europe. And I know in the United States as well, there’s a trend in that direction.
Ben Lack: The United States is doing really well in certain energy efficiency strategies but then has a lot of work that it needs to do in others. So as it pertains to the U.S., what’s the IEA’s stance on trying to get the U.S. to work on some of the things they’re not so good at?
Richard Jones: That’s a very good question, and it sort of allows me to segue into not only do we make the recommendations, but we also make sure that the countries are actually acting on the recommendations. When I say make sure, what we did for our ministerial meeting which occurred in October, we prepared publication which basically looked at the record. These recommendations have been out in public domain for about a year and a half, two years at that point. And so we decided to see how countries were doing.
Our member countries are obliged to provide data to us, and so we collected the data. And of course, in the energy efficiency area, sometimes it’s a little more difficult than other areas. But in this case, we were primarily looking at their policies and whether or not they would be implemented. And we developed a little scorecard and so on. And we produced a lot of nice pie charts, and I’m sorry to say that there was quite a bit of red still on the pie charts. What was interesting, you mentioned the United States, you’re absolutely right. The United States has made very good progress in some areas. In other areas, not so well. But no country of our twenty-eight member countries, no country had completed more than sixty percent of our recommendations. And in fact, to be honest, the U.S. was one of the better countries in terms of implementing the actual recommendations that we’ve made. The U.S. is still more energy intensive than a lot of our other member countries, but there are reasons for that. The U.S. is a large country. Geographic distances are large, has a relatively harsh climate. And, of course, in some areas, it’s cold a lot. In other areas, it’s hot a lot. So you have a lot of heating and cooling, a lot more heating and cooling in the United States than you do in some countries. And transportation takes up a lot more energy use in the United States than some other countries.
But overall the U.S. was actually doing fairly well implementing the recommendations. The U.K. was another country that was doing quite well. Japan, of course, is a leader in energy efficiency. But there were some surprising, and I don’t want to shame countries…
Ben Lack: Give us some up and comers.
Richard Jones: I think a lot of the countries in Southern Europe have got some ways to go. But they’re starting to work on that.
Ben Lack: Talk to us a little bit about how you come up with your recommendations.
Richard Jones: Well, it’s a peer process. We, of course, hire experts. But whenever we are working on a project like this, and we do projects on individual technologies sometimes, we create things called technology roadmaps which kind of map out where we think the future of technologies are going. In fact, just yesterday, we released two. One on photovoltaics and one on consecrating solar power. So we look at technologies and energy efficiency, of course, is a whole suite of technologies. And we meet with experts. We convene workshops. We prepare papers, and we distribute the papers. We subject them to peer review form experts in the field to get feedback on our recommendations. It’s an iterative process. In fact, the twenty-five recommendations, I think, originally, four or five years ago started out as eight recommendations. And then they went to twelve and sixteen and finally twenty-five. And so there’s a process of give and take.
And, in fact, right now, we’re in the process of looking at the twenty-five recommendations because one of the feedbacks we’ve gotten from the member countries when we did this evaluation was that “Hey, some of these recommendations are fine, but they’re not applicable to us. We’re getting into problems they’re supposed to solve in a different manner. So you got to look more holistically at our approach rather than just say are you doing the letter of every recommendation.” And we took that to heart. I think we’ll keep the seven categories, and we’ll probably always have twenty-five recommendations. But it might be the top twenty-five. And that will allow countries maybe to say, “Okay, in this area, I’m going to do it this way.” The important thing is that they’re taking energy efficiency seriously, and they’re working to improve their energy efficiency. In that regard, I also want to mention that one of our projects that’s ongoing is the development of indicators for energy efficiency. So then we can take raw data from a wide variety of industry sectors, homes and so on. And amalgamate it into a way that you can judge the energy intensity of an economy or the energy efficiency of an economy. And I think that’s something that could be very helpful for promoting energy efficiency worldwide because it will give a set of numbers that you can look at a glance to see which countries are really making progress.
And, of course, one country that I should mention is not a member country, but one country that’s made tremendous progress in recent years is China. In fact, I think they’ve reduced energy efficiency by about forty-five percent. And one of the things they’ve announced at Copenhagen was their intention to reduce another forty or forty-five percent, I think, by 2030. Something like that.
Ben Lack: So because your recommendations are really wholehearted and big-picture as far as energy is concerned, how do you balance the recommendations that you make from a renewable strategy to an energy efficiency strategy? Renewable technology is getting a lot of press. It’s the sexy thing. It’s what’s coming down the road, but the returns aren’t necessarily there. Energy efficiency is a lot harder to actually see physically, but the returns are much smaller. So when you give these recommendations, how do you balance the solutions of today with the solutions of tomorrow?
Richard Jones: That’s a very good questions. It’s not an easy process. First of all, we advocate a balance mix of policies. Renewables are certainly important. Other technologies, nuclear power, carbon capture and storage are also important. Because when it comes down to it, fossil fuels are going to be with us for a long time. Even under our high renewable scenarios, we see fossil fuels providing seventy percent of the world’s energy by 2030. So I want to make it clear that we include fossil fuels in our balance of energy policies. And, of course, we advocate, for example, the substitution of cleaner fossil fuels for dirtier fuels. For example, natural gas provides half of the emissions of coal. So it makes a great deal of sense to use natural gas in generating electricity if you can do it.
But when it comes to renewables versus energy efficiency, you’re absolutely right. In many cases, the return on investment is much higher for energy efficiency than it is for investing in renewables or for that matter, any other form of power generation. I often tell people that there’s no barrel of oil that’s cheaper than the barrel you don’t use. There’s no barrel more secure than the barrel you don’t need. And there’s no barrel that’s cleaner than the barrel you don’t burn. And that means energy efficiency, it satisfies so many different policy imperatives. The need for energy independence. The need for sustainable environmentally for an economic approach. So it really makes a great deal of sense.
Yet we see time and again that the market fails. And part of the problem is that the people that often benefit from energy efficiency are not the ones that make the investment. A simple example is the builder of the house. The builder is not gong to pay the energy bills for that house. And a prospective customer can’t see that’s it’s an energy efficient house. I mean, you can say, “Well, this is well-built,” and so on. But you don’t know what the materials are in the wall. You don’t get out a measuring thing and say, “How thick is this wall?” You can’t measure how thick is the concrete pad it sits on, that’s insulating it from the ground. Is there a foam insulation under that pad? By the time you’re building a house, unless you built it yourself, you don’t really know how energy efficient that house is going to be. And that’s one of the things we need. That’s why it’s important for things like the lead standard in the United States or the passive energy house standard in Germany. They’re very important because then you’ve got an objective person and an objective authority that can certify a house. And we’ve seen it work for appliances, the Energy Star program, for example, in the U.S., and there are similar programs all over the world now.
That makes a big difference. And you’ve seen a real trend to improve energy efficiency in the appliance industry. And now the U.S. has an initiative called super-efficient appliances. And that promises to go even farther. But for big-ticket items like houses, it’s still very difficult for consumers to judge. If you’re going to live in that house, and you know you’re going to live in that house for twenty years, you’re going to do everything you can to keep the energy bills down. But if you’re a builder, and you’re going to turn that house over, unless you’re forced to meet certain standards, you’re not going to do it.
Ben Lack: Or incentivize.
Richard Jones: Yeah. That’s one of the reasons why building codes are one of the things that are in our recommendations. To keep raising the bar, so that builders, in order to get their houses approved, will be inspected to meet certain standards. People will look at the materials they use. They’ll look at the processes they use and so on. And, of course, this means national level in some jurisdictions. But in other countries, maybe at the global level. A lot of building codes in the United States are set at the state or even at the municipal level. So that’s important because it means that local people can have an influence on the climate. And that’s why yesterday in the panel I chaired, we had the mayor from Charlottesville, Virginia, and they’ve got a climate officer in his city government. He said it’s kind of presumptuous to think that a city can protect the climate. But, in fact, it’s not, because I think it’s seventy percent of all energy today is used in cities. So if every city had a climate officer, they could make a big change.
Ben Lack: And half the time just building a roadmap is half the battle.
Richard Jones: Absolutely. Having a strategy. One of the other presentations on my panel yesterday was the mayor of Mercia, Spain, and he laid out what they did. And they basically started back in ’95, I think it was, maybe ’98 even. And there was some voluntary commitments they could make as part of an EU initiative and so on. And they kept working from there. And just last year, they were named one of the most energy efficient cities in Europe, I think, which is for Spain is quite good because Spain is focused more, in terms of national policy, is focused a lot more on renewables than they have on energy efficiency. So for a Spanish city to win an award, that’s a very good, I think, sign that they’re really doing something.
Ben Lack: Alright. So I’ve got my final question for you, and it’s more personal. Why do you do what you do?
Richard Jones: Because it’s fun. It gets you up in the morning. Even though I was a diplomat for most of my career, I’ve trained in science technology. I went to an engineering school. I’ve always been interested in technology. And this is a great job for me because, first of all, it involves a lot of travel which I like to do, although I think there is too much of a good thing. But it gets me going to different parts of the world. It gets me interacting with people from all over the world. Twenty-eight member countries in IEA. We do a lot of outreach. I mean, this morning, I met with the Vice Minister of Chile. At a coffee break I just finished, I met with the Minister of Energy of Ghana. I met with local officials from Nigeria and people from China, people from India. I have several Indian friends that I’ve developed in my work with India. So you’re really out there feeling that you’re part of a real community, and you’re working on something that is important not only for our member countries and, of course, as a U.S. citizen, I’m always interested in promoting the welfare of the United States. I mean, I’ve devoted my life to it as a diplomat. But this is something where I can honestly feel that what I’m doing which is good for America and good for our member countries is good for the whole world. And that makes me feel very, very proud.
Ben Lack: Well, Ambassador Jones, thanks so much for your time today and giving us some of your thoughts about some initiatives that the IEA is working on. And much continued success, and we look forward to talking with you soon.
Richard Jones: Thank you very much, Ben.
Ben Lack: Thank you.