Have you ever considered the energy consumed while mindlessly scrolling through your phone or lounging in your living room?
Often, daily routines prompt us to take energy for granted, but our unchecked consumption poses a threat to the environment, exacerbating climate change. The key to mitigating this impact lies in energy efficiency—an essential and cost-effective strategy to reduce our carbon footprint and combat climate change (IEA, 2019).
Energy efficiency plays a crucial role in combating global warming, especially as conventional power plants contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions and worsening air pollution. Industries, responsible for 37% of global emissions, are a major culprit, with over 80% of these emissions tied to energy use (IEA, 2022). The International Energy Agency suggests that a mere 1% increase in energy efficiency across sectors could lead to a 0.3% reduction in global CO2 emissions, so imagine if we could increase energy efficiency to a 70-80% increase, yielding substantial benefits (IEA, n.d)! We as a society must lead an equitable transition to a decarbonized energy system by 2050, beginning with a decarbonized power sector by 2035 (Energy.Gov, n.d).
Let’s bring this global issue closer to home, Mongolia. As we are all aware, Ulaanbaatar’s wintertime air quality is a national health emergency, caused by our infamous fossil fuel, making Mongolia the most coal-dependent among the Asian Development Bank’s developing member countries (ADB, 2020). Ever since the democratic transition in 1990, Mongolians have faced growing issues related to energy supply, accessibility, and sustainability, being heavily reliant on imported electricity due to a lack of processing infrastructure (JICA, 2023).
Getting rid of coal in Ulaanbaaatar might sound like a quick fix - and yes, we tried it during the winter of 2019-2020 with Resolution No.62. This resolution forbade the use of raw coal and substituted refined coal briquettes as a cleaner alternative, scoring us a solid 50% reduction in air pollution (ADB, 2022). But here is the tea: abandoning coal in Ulaanbaatar isn’t just about energy; it’s a whole urban planning puzzle, and with the imminent climate change, it is not easy. However, instead of moping about how the world is ending, it's quite feasible for us to do something about it. Here are a couple of potential solutions to think about:
Insulation plays a significant role in conserving energy and reducing GHG emissions, as it acts as a barrier to heat flow and reduces the expense of heating and cooling. In Mongolia’s case, it emerges as a vital solution for the ger districts and old buildings. Students at MIT proposed a novel approach involving thermal batteries made of molten salt that can store enough energy to heat a ger for up to 12 hours with enhanced insulation, offering a sustainable, energy-efficient alternative to coal-burning stoves (Jye, 2023).
Furthermore, an excessive amount of energy is consumed by many older buildings because of their inefficient appliances, antiquated heating systems, and inadequate insulation, and we all know how freezing Mongolian winters are. Retrofitting entails bringing these elements up to date with energy-efficient and modern standards. The Mongolian government has started to focus on transferring buildings’ heating systems and intends to increase energy efficiency in prefabricated concrete residential buildings to address the deficiency in thermo-technical restoration through renovation, investments, and energy efficiency promotion (GIZ, 2022). Retrofitting old buildings in Mongolia can have the following advantages:
- Energy Savings: By considerably lowering energy use, energy-efficient technologies and improved insulation can lower utility costs and lessen dependency on fossil fuels.
- Economic Gains: Retrofitting initiatives have the potential to boost employment and the economy in the building and energy sectors.
- Environmental Impact: It helps Mongolia achieve its climate goals by reducing energy consumption through lowering greenhouse gas emissions.
As seen from URECA’s coal-to-solar project with the Asian Foundation, buying carbon credits is a feasible method for reaching the net zero emissions target. Installing solar power in the ger districts would result in significant emissions savings and cascading social benefits that can be covered by the sale of carbon credits. This is done by combining blockchain technology to link carbon credits to particular producers and track their exchange with AI-based technology that validates renewable energy generation of solar and wind. Even for energy micro-producers, this resourceful, economical technology can produce high-quality carbon credits that are connected to the URECA marketplace, where they may be bought and sold. Each household has the potential to make a substantial impact by reducing annual carbon emissions by 10–20 tons and cutting energy costs by as much as 70%. Additionally, families can generate extra income by selling carbon credits, ranging from $800 and $1,600 per year. Achieving the lower end of this estimate, at $80 per ton, not only contributes to environmental sustainability but also translates into significant savings, potentially saving hundreds of dollars on energy bills. This project makes use of carbon credits, hastens the switch to renewable household energy sources while saving money, and improves energy efficiency, a win-win (Koenig, 2022)!
Another project example is WattCarbon’s clean-energy credits. Carbon emissions associated with the electricity produced from heating and cooling in buildings could be a massive target for carbon-cutting investments by turning buildings into decarbonization assets (St.John, 2023). Investing in energy efficiency, adjusting the timing of power consumption, switching from fossil fuel heating to electric heat pumps, installing solar panels on nearby properties or roofs, and purchasing clean power from an alternative source are some innovative ways to lower building emissions. The fundamental idea is that a project can produce carbon credits, which can then be sold to people or businesses wishing to offset their emissions by lowering energy consumption.
While alternative strategies are available to address the current crisis, focusing on energy efficiency measures is without a doubt the first and best way to address the problem and simultaneously meet supply security, affordability, and climate goals. Energy efficiency can address energy sector issues in Mongolia by constructing new power plants, energy source diversification, and utilizing energy-efficient and contemporary technology, such as system stabilizers and energy storage. It also calls for building energy and other infrastructures to enable the growth potential of the economy’s productive sectors to move away from mining (Ministry of Energy, 2017).
Now, diving into what you and your household can do to be a part of this motion, there are a variety of innovative household technologies that might not have crossed your mind. For instance, according to an innovation intelligence company, by installing Building Automation Systems (BAS), you can control your lighting, air conditioning, and heating to be more mindful of your consumption! By opting for smart thermostats, you can adapt it to your preference and adjust the temperature based on your building occupancy, resulting in savings of up to 10% on heating and cooling expenses. Also, opting for LED lighting is environmentally friendly because it doesn't contain any harmful chemicals and uses up to 75% less energy than conventional bulbs (patsnap, 2023). These technologies not only enhance comfort but also contribute significantly to energy efficiency, promoting both economic and environmental benefits.
While energy efficiency gains fall short of the necessary annual intensity improvements for net zero, there's reason for optimism. We should all support, promote, and endorse energy efficiency to hopefully one day, bring back our blue skies.