Energy Efficiency Makes More Out of Less

Global warming cannot be stopped by simply developing energy production. We need new methods to decrease energy consumption without sacrificing the standard of living.

Finland is a small European country almost completely located North of the 60th parallel. That means we are as far North as Alaska. For half of the year, the country is dark and cold, and we need energy to overcome these conditions.

However, our ground and sea contain no fossil fuels; oil, coal or gas. Therefore, the conditions have forced us to discover methods of solving the energy equation in a manner which is both economically and environmentally sustainable.

What is it that we have done? First, we have developed means of utilizing renewable energy. We have a great deal of forests, and we are utilizing bioenergy and biofuels created by industrial side streams. In 2013, the share of renewable energy in final energy consumption was more than one third (36.8%). The goal for the year 2020 set for us by the European Union is 38%, and we most likely will reach the goal ahead of time.

However, concentrating on the production of cleaner energy is only one side of the battle against climate change. It is more important to reduce emissions by consuming less energy. In fact, this is the only means we have to prevent global warming from reaching two degrees Celsius.

The good news is, the reduction of energy consumption does not automatically mean giving up on the standard of living. This is because we can achieve more with less energy. The key word is energy efficiency. Energy efficient solutions can be found in all levels where energy is consumed. The solutions do not require large investments; they pay for themselves and, at their best, they can create substantial savings.

In industry, the consumption of electricity and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions can be efficiently reduced with the use of frequency converters. They are used in, for instance, pumps and electric motors. Frequency converters are an excellent investment as they typically pay for themselves in less than a year. Nevertheless, frequency converters are only used in 10% of the targets where they might be beneficial.

By enhancing pump functions, global electricity consumption could be reduced by nearly 4%. The energy consumption of an electric motor can be cut by 30-50% by adjusting the rotating speed of the motors. The effect on global energy consumption would be enormous, as electric motors account for two thirds of all industrial energy consumption.

Energy efficiency can also be improved in the everyday life of the public. Buildings are responsible for 40% of energy consumption and 36% of CO2 emissions in the EU. By developing the ventilation and lighting of housing, energy consumption can be substantially reduced. For instance, opting for LED lighting can reduce electricity consumption by 10-30%.

Intelligent electricity networks and meters allow consumers to monitor their use of energy, learn how to save electricity, and by doing so, cut their energy expenses. Digital applications that utilise the industrial Internet bring energy efficient solutions close to every consumer. According to estimates, new usage habits and the monitoring of electricity and water consumption can save 5-20% worth of heat energy.

It is important to remember that this is not simply about the development of new technologies but also new types of business models and services. In Finland, we have developed service concepts that have been able to reduce up to 50% of the energy expenses of waste transport in pilot projects as well as energy efficiency development services based on a monthly contract where the customer begins to accumulate savings as soon as the contract enters into force.

Energy efficient solutions do not create themselves. For years, a substantial part of public innovation funding in Finland has been directed at the research and development of energy efficient solutions. In 2014, a quarter of the funding from The Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation Tekes to companies and research facilities was directed towards energy efficient solutions. Tekes has also implemented funding programmes focusing on energy and resource efficiency (e.g. the Groove and Green Growth programmes).

As for self-sufficiency concerning energy, we Finns were not dealt a great hand. However, our goal has been to compensate for this need by adopting better courses of action. I believe we have succeeded in many ways.

According to World Economic Forum, Finland is the 4th-most competitive country in the world, and we also have top scores in innovation, education, and even happiness. Without the innovation investments of companies and the public sector, we would never have been able to get this far.

This post is part of a "Nordic Solutions" series produced by The Huffington Post, in conjunction with the U.N.'s 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris (Nov. 30-Dec. 11), aka the climate-change conference. The series will put a spotlight on climate solutions from the five Nordic countries, and is part of our What's Working editorial initiative. To view the entire series, visit here.