EU agrees to improve energy efficiency 30% by 2030
EU climate chief says energy-saving deal is not good news for Putin, but others hoping for 40% target are disappointed.
Fiona Harvey, The Guardian, 23 July 2014
European Union member states will have to improve their energy efficiency by nearly a third in the next 15 years, under new proposals unveiled on Wednesday by the European commission.
The target – to improve efficiency by 30% by 2030 – had been the subject of dispute, as some industries wanted to avoid setting a firm goal and instead rely on the market and the EU’s carbon price to provide an economic incentive to cut energy waste. But others had been pushing for a tougher target, of 40% energy savings by 2030, and were disappointed.
Günther Oettinger, EU commissioner for energy, said: “Our proposal is the basis to drive the EU towards increased security of supply, innovation and sustainability, all in an affordable way. It is ambitious and at the same time it is realistic. Our aim is to give the right signal to the market and encourage further investments in energy-saving technologies to the benefit of businesses, consumers and the environment.”
He said that the goal would result in cost savings for consumers, as infrastructure and appliances from buildings to fridges would all have to be made more efficient to comply with the new rules.
Connie Hedegaard, the EU’s climate chief, was more outspoken, pointing out that the move could cut Europe’s reliance on imports of gas and other fossil fuels from states such as Russia.
Currently, the EU spends more than €400bn (£315bn) a year on imports of fossil fuels, a large proportion of which come from Russia through gas pipelines. The commission has calculated that for every 1% in energy savings, EU gas imports could be expected to fall by 2.6%.
“Today the commission is sending a strong message on energy efficiency: a 30% energy savings target for 2030,” said Hedegaard. “This is of course very good news for the climate. It’s also good news for investors, and it’s very good news for Europe’s energy security and independence. Meaning no such good news for Putin.”
However, it is not clear whether the new target will be translated into individual legally binding targets for each member state. The 2030 renewable energy target, after pressure from the UK government, is an EU-wide target and is not to be broken down into targets for member states, an omission which many green campaigners have said will render it much less effective.
Energy efficiency experts and green campaigners were critical of the new efficiency target, which some said was inadequate to the challenge of tackling climate change and saving on imports.
Monica Frassoni, president of the European Alliance to Save Energy, said: “The European commission appears to have lost credibility. Its supposedly leading role aiming to build a low carbon economy around an energy efficiency target, shows an obvious lack of ambition in the final proposal. The proposal is clearly not based on a real scientific assessment and a serious cost-benefit analysis, otherwise a target between 35% and 40% would have been proposed.”
She called the move the route of least resistance and regressive, based on narrow politics and a lack of vision. A more stringent target could have produced economic benefits in the form of cost savings and more jobs, she said.
Frederic Thoma, energy policy adviser at Greenpeace, was scathing of the deal, and also invoked the EU’s reliance on Russian gas. “In its dying days, the outgoing commission has tabled another gutless plan on energy that is a gift to the oligarchs of this world. An ambitious efficiency target would drastically cut the need for expensive imports of fossil fuels from Russia and elsewhere and help Europe stand up to bullies like Putin.
"The commission’s own research shows efficiency could also create three-and-a-half million jobs, while helping tackle climate change. It’s a no-brainer that EU leaders cannot ignore. They must put Europe’s energy policy back on track.”
Separately, the commission also said it would not challenge the UK’s move to create a “capacity market” for electricity, which is a key plank of the coalition government’s electricity market reforms.
The news was greeted with dismay by some green campaigners, who argued that the capacity market – which rewards electricity generators for keeping their power stations open, in order to protect the grid against surges in demand – would end up giving excess profits to coal-fired and other fossil fuel power plants. Coal-fired power stations could receive special payments until 2033 under the scheme.
Jenny Banks, energy and climate change specialist at WWF-UK, said: “The capacity market risks pushing up bills and holding up progress towards a decarbonised power sector by throwing money at the UK’s old, dirty coal plants. It’s hard to believe that a country which has just reaffirmed its commitment to tackling climate change by choosing not to amend the fourth carbon budget is about to introduce a policy which could lock in vast payments to its oldest and dirtiest power stations until the 2030s.”
She said the capacity market was “skewed in favour of large existing generators while sidelining valuable sources of flexible capacity such as interconnection, demand reduction and response and electricity storage. Allowing these technologies to compete on a level playing field could push down prices and help integrate renewables into the UK electricity mix.”