Columnists: Hans Nilsson, Fourfact

Published on: 6 Oct 2006

A quiet week in Brussels

The American author and entertainer Garrison Keiller usually begins his stories about Lake Wobegon by telling that it has been a quiet week there. He then goes on telling the most hilarious tales about basically everyday matters. It seems as if the last week in September was such a “quiet” week in Brussels.

A fairly simple and trivial – but important – matter such as the publication of an energy efficiency action plan, which has been advertised for many months, all of a sudden aroused minds and actions.

Or should we say non-actions? Because that was what the President of the European Commission Barroso suddenly proposed. He seems to have had the idea that all energy matters from efficiency to nuclear, from renewable fuels to Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) should be put into one huge package deal. Like so many others, he seem to have the idea that doing all things at the same time is a sign of comprehensiveness.

But to me, it is a bit like being served the whole menu at the same time when going to a restaurant.

The ambition to take comprehensive steps is laudable, no doubt. But our experience is that when we do this in energy packages that bring supply and demand issues together, it will be to the disadvantage for energy efficiency. All attention, awareness as well as resources, will be focused on energy supply. Naturally so, supply is visible and has a lot of moving parts. Most boys and many girls like these toys. Energy efficiency is less conspicuous, and will only in a few cases attract the interest and admiration of neighbours.

True comprehensiveness means that you should not do everything at the same time but do things in the right order ! And in energy matters everything begins with the demand!

As the late Finnish philosopher Georg Henrik von Wright pointed out, deciding what energy source you should use begins with the question: “How much energy do we need?” If we are efficient we need less supply, and will be able to make better use of e.g. renewable fuels and distributed generation.

If we are energy efficient we may design a sustainable energy system. But if we are focused on energy supply we may have to be wasteful with energy to make use of all the power-plants we have built. This actually is the story behind the Swedish nuclear programme which motivated electrical resistance heating to make use of the supply. The tail started to wag the dog!

So we are many people waiting for the action plan to come first and come now. Then, we will at least have made an attempt to be comprehensive by beginning in the right end. This action plan should be the bugle call for construction of a sustainable society that consider its needs and then finds the sources.

Garrison Keiller usually ends by saying that Lake Wobegon is the town where all the women are strong, all the men are handsome and all the children are above the average. We, the children of eceee, are prepared to subscribe to such statements. We have witnessed a quiet week in Brussels and now we want our reward for being patient: An Energy Efficiency Action Plan!

Hans Nilsson is chairman of the IEA DSM-Programme and runs his own consultancy FourFact.
Visit Mr Nilsson's web site .


Other columns by Hans Nilsson