Sustainable Energy

Based on a Discussion Webinar, Friday 29 February 2008

The EU’s Energy End-use Efficiency and Energy Services Directive came into force in April 2006. The directive prescribes that all Member States should present a series of National Action Plans of which the first one was due for June 2007. These 27 action plans produce for the first time a European panorama on the energy efficiency sector, as well as a full compendium of measures used or planned by member states.

What are the main ideas contained in the first series of action plans? Which countries lead and which are lagging behind? Do Member States have sufficient qualified people to implement the proposed measures? And, more generally, is there still enough savings potential left to reach the EU energy savings targets of 20% by 2020, or is the energy efficiency well “running dry”?

These and other questions were addressed on a Discussion Webinar on 29 February 2008. The following are a few of the major points arising from that discussion.

1) The National Action Plans

A first, painful conclusion is that nearly all Member States missed the deadline for submitting their National Action Plan (NAP). Only the UK and Finland had their NAP ready by June 30, 2007. Even today there are still a few NAPs to be finalized.

The fact that even this first deadline is not achieved by many Member States is expected to have a snowball effect on the rest of the planningcycle. In the second and the third NAP, Member States must include an evaluation and analysis of the achievements of the measures proposed in their first NAP.

Leonardo ENERGY is participating in the Energy Efficiency Watch, an initiative by the EU Parliament to monitor the quality of the NAPs independently from the Commission. It aims for a quick assessment based on best practices and checklists of what should be included. Some Action Plans are well established and set ambitious goals. Good examples include the NAPs of UK, Austria, and Denmark, Romania and Poland.

One participant put the Polish NAP into perspective, saying that it sounds indeed very nice but does not promise anything concrete and lacks real commitment.

2) Mandatory or non-mandatory targets?

Some confusion exists whether the targets of the Energy Services Directive (- 1% energy end-use per year in the next 9 years) are mandatory or not. In fact, it is only mandatory for the Member States to do efforts in order to reach the targets, the number itself has no binding force. And the target of the EU’s Energy Efficiency Action Plan of -20% by 2020 is not mandatory at all, in contrast to the CO2 and renewable energy targets.

But after all it is not that important whether a target is mandatory or not. If a mandatory target does not have real enforcement mechanisms, the difference with a non-mandatory target is purely cosmetic.

3) Is there still enough savings potential left?

Energy efficiency is widely believed to have a large potential, but is that still true after more than 30 years of energy saving efforts in Europe? There seems to be an eternal 20 to 30 % technical savings potential in Europe – how can that be? There are probably three main reasons for this: technological development, the increase in energy end-use, and the relative inefficiency of Eastern European countries.

A participant pointed out that a large part of the remaining energy savings potential requires a mentality change.

4) The human factor

But will energy efficiency ever really happen, if it depends entirely on human behaviour? We cannot even be moved to switch off lights.

Three possible action points are

  • automation of what now depends on human behaviour

  • education and training to change human mentality

  • mandatory standards to force a behavioural change

But both automation and a too restrictive legislation can also turn out to be counter productive. An example is a building in which automatic lighting control is installed because it is required by regulations, but the regulation fails to describe the control mechanism, and lights are left on too long in a sparsely used area.

5) Education is key

Education, training, certification and quality control are clearly key factors for a successful energy savings programme. But are there enough qualified people available to initiate such programmes? Even at the highest levels, there seems to be a lack of qualified staff. Some Member States have difficulties in finding the right people for their National Energy Agency, and even the Commission itself is said to be understaffed.

In some countries, like France, the energy services market is controlled by a very limited number of players. This prevents a large group of energy auditors to be trained, representing a real barrier for the widespread deployment of energy efficiency.

Here, National or Local Energy Agencies ply an important “advisory” role but, again, having no response capacity to all the information requests.

6) Various definitions of “comfort”

If so much depends on the right mentality of the people in the field, should we forget about ambitious energy savings targets?

One participant made the suggestion that the only thing people really want is comfort. Where energy efficiency is not really improving comfort, it is never going to happen at large scale. Fortunately, comfort and energy efficiency often go together.

On the other hand, comfort can also be understood as good air quality (or health) deriving from clean energy use or reduced air pollutant emissions through energy efficiency.

7) CO2 saving in transport

A last issue raised were the energy savings in the transport sector. The efforts on this domain remain very limited compared to other large energy consuming sectors. Most countries have implemented a number of widely varying, uncoordinated measures on this domain. Examples include differential taxation of vehicles, eco-driving training, public sector fleet management, and traffic management. None of these measures however has the potential to have a major impact on the overall energy consumption of this sector, and a more integrated view is needed.

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