Columnists: Rod Janssen, Independent consultant

Published on: 1 Apr 2016

Mixed signals

Since COP 21 in Paris in December, it feels as if the world has finally woken up to the importance of a more ambitious approach to improving energy efficiency. Energy efficiency was highlighted more than ever in Paris and one has to thank the host French government for the efforts they made to raise the profile of energy efficiency.

There are mixed signals, however. Consider two important phrases that have risen in the past year.  One is the “Energy Union” that is a way for the European Union to act with greater authority to essentially ensure greater energy security.  The second phrase is “energy efficiency first.” What does that mean in un-coded language? There are two aspects to it.  In our energy policy strategies, we need to start by improving energy efficiency in order to lower our demand levels before we consider energy supply options.  Second, recent analysis shows that if we consider the energy savings from improved energy efficiency this becomes the “first fuel” when placed along fossil fuels or other strictly supply options.

In the European Union we have two commissioners directly promoting energy efficiency (one through the Energy Union approach). They do quite a good job overall, but there is a default position of looking at “normal” supply as the primary solution for energy security or renewable energy (and sometimes nuclear) for “clean energy.”  One does not get the feeling they really in their hearts think of improved energy efficiency as a supply option.  Still the tone is positive and that is reassuring.

2016 is an important year because the Commission is to be publishing an energy efficiency package that will recommend some changes to its two major energy efficiency directives.  Fine.

But, I cannot help thinking about the increased effort we will need following the December Paris climate summit. Will improved energy efficiency be treated as an even more important tool to reduce GHG emissions? Will it be seen as a more important tool to address energy security? Will the Commission and the European Union as a whole raise the level of ambition of energy efficiency policies to make them binding, as they are for carbon emissions as a whole or for renewable energy? It is not obvious.

Importantly, will member states implement energy efficiency policies more seriously?  The level of implementation is poor according to all available analyses. Do we know why?  It is a financial issue?  Or is it just a lack of true interesting and a belief that increased supply – even “clean” supply – will be sufficient?

I worry when I see the energy efficiency measures essentially dismantled in countries like the United Kingdom.  Its flagship Green Deal is dead. Its approach to fuel poverty is of concern. The one glimmer of hope is that its new National Infrastructure Delivery Plan included a section on energy efficiency, hence implicitly recognising the demand side as part of its energy infrastructure.

If we are convinced that energy efficiency is first and has to be on an equal footing with supply options, we need entirely new approach to data gathering and analysis, we need more resources for effective implementation, we need more resources for better monitoring, we need more analysis and that means more analysts, we need energy efficiency and renewable energy policies to work more closely together. And we need to know more.

As for EU policies. we don’t really know how individual articles of our directives are being implemented.  Our monitoring of them is basic at best.  The industry association EuroACE pointed that out recently when it criticised how the Joint Research Centre failed to provide a more realistic and in-depth assessment of the national renovation strategies under the Energy Efficiency Directive.

Finally, it may be appropriate to look more carefully at what is going on in the US. The US is far from perfect and we see problems in their federal approach but they do a lot and we will make mistakes if we don’t learn lessons from them.  They have innovative energy efficiency programmes, effective national laboratories to do detailed and independent analysis, and energy utilities play a major role in many states.  And they keep trying to explore the boundaries of what is possible to reduce demand.

All is not doom and gloom and I don’t want to leave that impression.  There is much going on in Europe. But, we cannot leave it as a bureaucratic exercise simply following the minimum requirement of EU directives. There is a platform for energy efficiency today that was not there before. Let’s turn these mixed signals into a force to be reckoned with. And that will mean something significantly more than business as usual. And in our heart of hearts we know we can.

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