Columnists: Rod Janssen, Independent consultant

Published on: 19 Aug 2010

Hope springs eternal

These are interesting times for the energy efficiency world in Europe. We’ve argued for a stronger binding target for climate change and things are moving in that direction. The energy efficiency community has supported a binding target for renewable energy but felt it should be matched by one for energy efficiency. It is bewildering that there is so little interest in a mandatory target for energy savings? Or is it energy efficiency? Every pronouncement sounds a slightly different tone.

We in the energy efficiency world need to put things in perspective. In the 1970s renewable energy and nuclear were seen as the great saviours from the oil crises. Well, the technology wasn’t ready for renewables and then we had Three Mile Island and Chernobyl that pricked the nuclear bubble, at least for a generation. And when you look at the indicators from the IEA, what did best? Energy efficiency did.

But it is a hard slog. In 1990, the Dutch made the first policy link between addressing climate change through energy efficiency. There already was a target for energy efficiency (oops, energy intensity) in 1986 for 1995 but no one really took notice. But in the 1990s countries did make a stronger connection, the Commission followed with a relatively ambitious approach. And even the eceee was born in this period.

In the 1990s we had the first steps towards a truly long-term comprehensive approach to energy efficiency but not all the stars were in the right constellation. Yes, we missed the 1995 target but no one was really trying. Then hopes were raised after the Kyoto Protocol was agreed up. A 1998 Communication on Energy Efficiency led to the 2000 Energy Efficiency Action Plan, then to some important directives like the first Buildings Directive in 2002. There was another Europe-wide Energy Efficiency Action Plan in 2006 and today Europe is waiting for one more. Time seems to have flown by.

Everything has been stop-start. There would be some good initiatives, but not enough financing or not enough training or not enough capacity or not enough “priority.” Excuse after excuse. And the energy efficiency community has been feeling discriminated against. The climate community still does not really know how to deal with energy savings.

Energy efficiency (or energy savings or energy conservation or energy intensity) made strides forward but it felt stuck on the sidelines. The IEA says energy efficiency could contribute up to 65 % of greenhouse emissions reductions by 2020 but you would not know it by action on the ground. People said nice words but not enough was happening.

Everyone was so pleased with the climate change target – mandatory, of course. Everyone praised the target for renewable energy – mandatory, of course. And then, praise was hard to come by for an indicative target for energy efficiency or energy saving or whatever it is – not mandatory, of course.

Yes, directives and policies kept coming. The 2002 Buildings Directive was revised only this year. Yet this Directive has been poorly implemented. A reasonable Energy Services Directive entered into force in 2006 but has been poorly implemented. Appliance labelling and standards directives were approved and implementation has not been bad but the process is slow for revising the standards for a range of products and there are fears of falling behind globally. eceee has been strenuously arguing for better implementation. Remember the eceee summer study themes of “Act! Innovate! Deliver!" and “Saving energy – Just do it!”? But, the question we cannot answer is what implementation would be like if we had a mandatory target.

Now the voices for greater impact (actually achieving what we set out to do, in large part by solid implementation) are rising throughout Europe. There is greater awareness by more people and organisations (again) that energy efficiency leading to absolute energy savings can really contribute to European climate change and energy security objectives, even possibly allowing those objectives to be more ambitious. It has been said before, more than once.

Time will tell what it will take to achieve what we set out to do. Hope springs eternal for the energy efficiency community. It is not the first time.

Is this a false dawn or a new dawn? One hopes for the latter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the columnist and do not necessarily reflect the views of eceee or any of its members.

Other columns by Rod Janssen

Oct 2016

Apr 2016

Nov 2011