Columnists: Nils Borg, European Council for an Energy Efficient Economy

Published on: 18 Oct 2016

Policy matters – and so does product policy

Policy matters. Policy delivers. That’s one of the clear messages from the IEA energy efficiency markets report released last week. Despite the fact that energy prices have gone down globally, energy efficiency continues to make big inroads.  Price signals play a role, but it is primarily policy that drives energy efficiency markets. So what is needed for an effective energy efficiency policy?

We need policy makers that have vision, ambition and courage . Without that, we won’t have much progress in energy efficiency improvements, apart from the base line trend, i.e. the indigenous technology development. This said, companies innovate and churn out new and amazing ideas and products. But for the best products to reach markets or expand beyond certain niches, and for this to happen fast, we need policies that reward the best.

This is painfully clear in the areas of ecodesign and labelling, where the European Commission has for the most part stalled the process for more than a year, and for some technologies even longer.

Drive innovation – policy and public sector can help

Innovation is important for our survival. Some markets and products are extremely innovative without intervention. Teslas and Iphones, smart phone apps, Skype and Spotify… they are all driven through the desire of people for a particular service or feeling.  Efficiency, however, is not a visible feature and thus a harder sell. Electric or hydrogen cars need very efficient electric motors so there are forces rewarding an innovative motor maker, but this still happens on the margin.

A train operator may not go for the most efficient engine, unless there are very clear and convincing advantages. Here, the public sector can foster innovation. For instance, many cities are buying rolling stock or outsourcing their operations to a large company. Efficiency requirements can be part of the contracts. The same goes for buildings and other systems that use electric motors in the form of fans and pumps. Effective policy will help improve the performance of products and components as well as that of systems and applications.ha

The sad story of ecodesign – don’t let small things stop big things

Minimum energy performance standards and energy labelling are incredibly strong tools to drive development of energy efficiency. In Europe, the ecodesign and labelling directives are a European energy efficiency success story. It is arguably the most successful of all European energy efficiency policies and it is estimated to deliver half of the EU savings target for 2020 and a quarter of the GHG target. The motor regulation alone is expected to save around 135 TWh in yearly savings by 2020, but much more can be achieved in the field of motors, fans, pumps and drives alone. Sadly, the process has been stalled.

Ecodesign needs to move on, this is clear, together with all the other much needed European energy efficiency policies. Ecodesign does not exist in a vacuum and needs to be integrated with other EU energy efficiency policies. We should not rely on one or few instruments, but a portfolio of policies. This creates resilience, but also make each single policy stronger. Let’s conclude with the first and most important factor: we need policy makers that have vision, ambition and courage .

In the case of ecodesign, I have been told that the Commission wants to take a stronger political ownership of the process, given the controversies concerning vacuum cleaners and other products close to the consumers. I have sympathy for anyone who is willing to take political responsibility, but it must be clear why and for what purpose.

Top-level political ownership of the ecodesign process has perhaps been secured, but this now also means political ownership of no action.

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 Nils Borg