Energy & Environment

Making energy saving a reality

Stefan Scheuer / Oct 2012

European Commissioner for Energy, Günther Oettinger. Photo: European Union 2012

On 4 October Europe’s first comprehensive energy saving law with binding targets and efficiency measures, the Energy Efficiency Directive (EED), passed the final legislative hurdle with the adoption by Member States at a Council meeting in Brussels.

The EED is important because it holds the key to end the negligence of our energy system for demand management and to realise huge financial, social and environmental benefits. At a time where protests against unemployment and austerity hit the streets of a number of European capitals, the baton that is now being passed on to the 27 Member States of the EU to take it towards the finish line, is an opportunity for governments to create jobs, reduce deficits and enable the transition to a sustainable energy system.

In 2007, the European Union made a commitment to achieve 20% energy savings – in buildings, industry, services, transport and the energy sector - by the year 2020. But there was no appetite for backing this commitment with binding national targets, as it was done for the 20% renewable energy and 20% GHG emissions reduction targets. While the EU is currently on track to meet those targets, it is barely half way to achieve its energy saving target.

The EED is a welcome response. It puts the 20% energy savings commitment into law. It introduces for each Member State a binding target of 1.5% new energy savings each year for consumers and provides a framework for energy efficiency improvement measures in all sectors designed to overcome the existing barriers to energy efficiency investments.

Some of these measures are about leading by example, like the 3% annual renovation requirement for central government buildings to minimum energy performance standards; some are about changing the energy services market and financing, like requiring energy companies to deliver or pay for energy savings for their customers, be it through better building insulation, efficient appliances, more informed usage of energy or more efficient mobility practices; some are more strategic, like the national building renovation strategies; and finally others are procedural requirements, like the cost-benefit analysis for high-efficiency co-generation.

There nevertheless are many exemptions to these requirements and there will be diverging interpretations of the legal text. But no matter where exactly the minimum line will eventually be drawn, the result would be insufficient to deliver the EED objectives of reaching 20% energy saving by 2020 overall and 1.5% new savings each year for energy consumers Our calculations show that a minimalistic implementation approach would only achieve some 15% instead of the required 20% savings by 2020, so governments will have to go well beyond minimum requirements. The European Commission as the guardian of EU laws has to play a central role. It must monitor the implementation, assess whether the EU is on track to achieve its 20% energy saving target and prevent complacency. It must assist Member States and their implementing bodies by ensuring a robust interpretation and a common understanding of the Directive, and developing guidance for applying best practices. This requires an inclusive and transparent process involving all stakeholders.

Delivering on the EED objectives is a prerequisite for Europe’s energy transition and a great opportunity to tackle our economic, social and environmental challenges.

Stefan Scheuer

Stefan Scheuer

October 2012

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