Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The EU should be much bolder on energy efficiency

by Stephen Tindale

The most pain-free way for European governments to fight climate change is to use energy more efficiently. At a recent energy conference hosted by the European Commission, it struck me that the EU still has a poverty of ambition when it comes to energy efficiency. This is hard to fathom at a time when it could alleviate several of the ills currently troubling European governments: unemployment, energy security and climate change.

EU policy and performance in this area has been disappointing to date. In a speech to a conference on EU energy policy on September 30th 2010, energy commissioner Gá¹»nther Oettinger identified energy efficiency as his “first priority”. However, he then talked mainly about how energy is used by consumers and the importance of improving the insulation of buildings. This is a significant part of the energy equation, but not the only important part of it. The EU must also focus on how energy is produced.

Too much of the debate on climates focuses on targets. The EU has legally binding targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20 per cent (from 1990 levels) by 2020, and to get 20 per cent of energy from renewables by the same date. A third target, energy savings of 20 per cent by 2020, is so far only for for guidance. Oettinger has said that he will decide whether to make this target binding after evaluating progress made towards the voluntary target in 2012. Targets have some value; they lead to greater political and business attention and help secure agreement on specific policies. However, it would be a waste of political and negotiating capital to spend too much time or effort making the target binding. It would be more sensible for governments, businesses and non-governmental organisations to focus instead on specific regulations and on funding.

The Commission is due to publish a new Energy Efficiency Action Plan before the end of 2010. This should identify regulations and funds to deliver improved efficiency, both in energy use and in energy production. The Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, Energy Services Directive and Cogeneration Directive should be strengthened. The Energy Performance of Buildings Directive mandates that all buildings undergoing major renovation will have to meet minimum energy performance requirements, but these are to be set by member-states. Germany already requires that any building undergoing substantial renovation should meet high energy efficiency standards. Sweden has gone further: every time a building is sold or rented out it must meet high efficiency standards. All member-states should follow the Swedish example, and the new Action Plan should require that strong building regulations be met whenever a building is renovated, sold or rented.

The Energy Services Directive is an attempt to get energy companies to act as energy services companies, delivering not just power and heat but also advice to help their consumers use energy more efficiently and so reduce costs. The directive requires energy suppliers to promote energy efficiency to their customers and to expand energy metering. But it is vaguely worded and has no significant regulatory teeth. It should in future require energy companies to give money to organisations which carry out energy efficiency work at no up-front cost to customers.

The third directive to strengthen is the Congeneration Directive. When a fuel is burnt to generate electricity, heat is also produced. Most of the heat from most power stations is simply wasted up chimneys. Additional fuel is then burnt to provide heat for homes and industry. It is quite possible to use the heat from electricity generation for industrial or domestic heating. Cogeneration is a well-established technology which makes obvious economic, energy security and climate sense. Yet in 2007 only 11 per cent of EU electricity and 13 per cent of heat used came from cogeneration plants.

The Cogeneration Directive requires member-states to remove barriers to cogeneration. It allows, but does not require, them to support cogeneration. Some governments have done so, but the leading countries were doing this well before the directive was adopted in 2004, and the directive has not delivered a significant increase in cogeneration Europe-wide. Cogeneration should therefore be made mandatory. Whenever anything is burnt to generate electricity, the heat must be captured and used.
As well as regulation, the EU must focus on funding. Grants will be necessary to expand cogeneration and district heating networks. In 2008 the Commission allocated €4.8 billion of cohesion policy funds to renewables, decentralised energy production (which makes cogeneration much easier) and district heating. It has recently proposed that €115 million of unspent money from the European Economic Recovery Fund to be allocated to energy efficiency. The Commission should go much further. It should propose a substantial increase in energy efficiency funding, using some of the estimated €112 billion that will be raised by auctioning Emissions Trading Scheme permits.

Whatever the Commission does, most of the finance will have to be mobilised nationally. Much of the funding should come via low-interest loans, as has been done successfully in Germany through the publicly-owned KfW bank, resulting in the improvement of more than 1.5 million homes. The Energy Services Directive allows member-states to establish energy efficiency funds, but does not require them to do so, while the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive merely requires them to list existing and proposed financing schemes. These provisions are too weak. Member-states must be required to set up energy efficiency financing schemes.

The EU likes to claim to be a world leader on tackling climate change. It cannot claim any sort of leadership in energy efficiency, but there are some reasons for optimism that 2011 will at last see significant progress. President Herman Van Rompuy has called a summit on energy in February 2011. This will be a good opportunity to make progress on implementing the Energy Efficiency Action Plan. Hungary, which holds the EU presidency for the first half of 2011, has particularly strong reasons to focus on improving existing buildings. Doing so could reduce its annual gas imports by 40 per cent, and prevent up to 2,500 people dying from hypothermia every winter. Poland, which has the presidency in the second half of 2011, has improved residential energy consumption by almost 20 per cent over the last five years by retro-fitting existing buildings.

Progress is no guaranteed, of course. Raising the price of energy through taxation is one way to encourage less consumption, and would also help reduce fiscal deficits, but energy taxation proposals provoke extensive and often effective lobbying by industry and consumer organisations. Public grants don't face opposition, but will be limited by the economic situation. Nevertheless, the Commission does now appear to be serious about energy efficiency. It has estimated that reducing EU energy consumption by 20 per cent by 2020 would reduce the cost of energy imports by €100-150 billion annually, and could create a million new jobs. The means to achieve this 20 per cent reduction are already known, and the technologies are available. Yet under current policies the EU will only reduce consumption by 10 per cent, so the EU will miss out on at least €50 billion a year in cost savings and half a million new jobs. Stronger policies to save more energy must be the top priority for Oettinger and Jose Manuel Barroso for the rest of 2010 and the whole of 2011.

Stephen Tindale is an associate fellow at the Centre for European Reform.

The arguments outlined above will be expanded in a CER policy brief, 'Delivering EU Energy Efficiency', in November 2010.


Anonymous said...

It is a better strategy to approach the problem from an efficiency perspective than it is from global warming perspective. Regardless of what you believe the science says, we in the West should be reliant on tyrants for 0% of our energy and be spending coordinated cash to replace the current methods of energy production. Both sides of aisle would join that fight!!!

Anonymous said...

I am terribly disappointed by this illiberal, dirigiste and EU-centric piece. Making specific technologies compulsory! Where are the market instruments? If you want to increase the power of the EU bureaucracy this the way to go, but more EU rules are no solution to energy efficiency.