Energy efficiency still elusive
The European Commission has published a new draft directive on energy efficiency, but the targets are voluntary rather than binding, and many critics fear it will be as toothless as those measures that went before it. MJ Deschamps reports
The latest European Commission proposal on energy efficiency may have the basic ingredients of an approach for helping the European Union to achieve its 2020 emissions reduction objectives. It gets utilities to share the pain with consumers, who have been the focus of the EU's previous efforts. However, the exact recipe for how to achieve these objectives is still missing, according to critics.
A new draft directive has been put forward that would upgrade two current directives on energy efficiency, directives 2004/8/EC and 2006/8/EC. The biggest change proposed is that large electricity, coal, gas and fuel companies might soon need to ensure their customers use 1.5 per cent less energy every year, and would face efficiency audits every three years to demonstrate their success, or otherwise.
Member states would have the option of excluding small energy firms from the reporting obligations, however, and energy saving targets would still not be binding.
This reliance on voluntary action has been seized upon by some critics. "With typical home electricity bills running at around £1,000 annually, a saving of 1.5 per cent represents about £15, or just over £1 per month," says Nick Grogan, founder of Energy Solutions, a gas and electricity broker in the UK. "This [proposal] appears to be similar to many other EU plans: a strange mixture of watered down goals on the one hand and impractical goals on the other."
For example, he says, the proposal retreats from previous EU energy efficiency ambitions of renovating existing buildings to the "best available energy performance class" and now aims for "minimum energy performance requirements".
Brook Riley, a climate justice and energy campaigner with environmental network Friends of the Earth Europe, praises the new initiative for being the first EU proposal that takes a "comprehensive look at energy savings" rather than focusing just on final consumers. However, he agrees with Grogan that it shares many of the weaknesses of previous initiatives. "The EU is still relying on voluntary targets and measures that just aren't really concrete enough to deliver," he says.
According to the draft directive, the European Commission has estimated that the EU will achieve only half its 20 per cent objective by 2020 if it carries on as it is, hence the directive's push to achieve further savings in energy supply and use. It is currently being examined by several Commission directorates.
Susanne Drybol, chief engineer at Denmark-based Rockwool International, providers of energy efficiency solutions for buildings, has her own concerns about the renovation aspects of the draft proposal. She says the existing building stock represents the single biggest potential sector for energy savings in the EU and "it is crucial to ensure a deep renovation of the total building stock to achieve the EU objective of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80-95 per cent by 2050 compared to 1990".
The new proposal includes a 3 per cent yearly renovation target for buildings owned by public bodies, which is a good start, according to Drybol. "But it is far from sufficient to ensure the EU will achieve its long-term emissions reduction target." The renovation target, she suggests, should at least cover all publicly supported buildings, and then could go on to cover all other buildings that can be regulated.
"A big concern for the directive is that it so far does not reflect the real challenge for 2050, but only looks at the short-term challenge for 2020," says Drybol.
Riley agrees: "In principle, it all sounds quite good, but when you go into the details, there is nothing that member states and energy companies will actually have to do concretely."
Riley points out that in the proposal's impact assessment, it is noted that the only way to reach the 2020 target is by setting binding targets and legislation. "They are saying one thing but doing another," he says.
"What they're hoping to do is persuade people to start moving in the right direction," says Chris Skrebowski of specialist energy consulting firm Peak Oil Consulting. "You put this directive in the public consciousness, you will get some compliance and it will do something vaguely useful. But if you judge it in a mechanistic way, you will tend to be disappointed."
It is possible that the Commission might eventually move to binding targets. A spokesperson for the energy directorate general says Brussels will monitor the implementation of an action plan published in March this year, and will report on progress towards 2020 goals in spring 2013. If the review shows that the overall EU energy conservation target is unlikely to be achieved, the Commission could propose legally binding goals.
Riley says one overarching reason why energy targets have yet to be met has to do with the reservations of Europe's utility companies. "There is a widespread perception among the industry in Europe that if you're reducing energy use, you're destroying your business model, but we disagree with that," he says.
"Car companies, for example, actually make more in servicing cars than producing and selling cars. We need to make this transition with energy utilities as well."
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