Columnists: Rod Janssen, Independent consultant

Published on: 14 Nov 2011

Time to listen

These are trying and worrying times in the EU decision-making world when it comes to energy efficiency.  The Commission’s proposed Energy Efficiency Directive, which is wending its way through the approval process, was designed to have policies in place to meet the 2020 energy savings target.  Since many believe the Directive falls short of the 2020 target, proposals are now being tabled to amend and strengthen it further.  As a committed supporter of improved energy efficiency, I laud the efforts at improvement.

But I’m worried.  There is a lot of strong language and accusations that Member States are delinquent and foot-dragging.  It is turning into a blame game, with neither “side” showing much willingness to accommodate the interests of the other.

One side, the energy efficiency community, is pushing with all the effort it can muster for measures to ensure the illusive low carbon society.  The other side, the policy-makers, is more phlegmatic, stepping away from the priority of adopting binding energy efficiency plans , accepting binding sectorial obligations, or accepting an overall, binding—yet quite flexible—energy savings target.  Even the United Kingdom appears to not be supporting energy supplier obligations, a policy that has been championed for years by the UK.

While division and even contention fester in the energy efficiency world, there are entirely different dynamics in the energy supply sector, with major investments in new oil and shale gas deposits, pipelines and other fuel transport facilities, transmission systems, expansion of renewables as appropriate, R&D, market development and more.

The debates are about security, ensuring adequate energy supply, developing adequate infrastructure to meet modern needs, financing investments, and market reform.  The energy supply systems in every EU Member State are being reviewed and revamped to ensure the needs of their economies will be met in years to come.  Investments in fossil fuels are increasing constantly. Energy supply concerns are certainly not pre-occupied with the constraints of planning for a low carbon society.

This dynamic support for supply options is reflected in an apparent loss of belief in commitment by Member States to high efficiency and low carbon. They seem to be almost wishing away the efficiency target and are certainly not interested in making it binding.

The energy efficiency community sees the overall binding savings target as a thin red line and – barring major break-throughs for the acceptance of forceful binding sectorial measures and targets, will accept nothing less ambitious.  While this community is not pleased with the lack of progress and commitment to 2020 targets for energy savings, the concern runs deeper than just the balance of priorities between supply and efficiency options, and beyond energy policy or climate change policy.

As budgets in many Member States are slashed, good policy analysts and programme managers are losing their jobs, reducing the capacity to analyse and deliver.  Reduced capacity inevitably means Member States are less willing to make commitments.  With budget concerns of its own, the European Commission may have its own capacity constraints to develop and implement policies if there are staff cuts.

And for obvious reasons, in the current financial and economic crisis, the policy barometer is on jobs, banking reform, growth strategies and the like.

Adding to the brake on progress, there are even challenges to the legitimacy of the European Union to make energy policy. Some object to giving more powers to the European Union, preferring to see energy policy remain the responsibility of individual Member States, through their own initiatives at the national, regional and local level.  The fact is that Member States have already transferred authority to bodies such as the International Energy Agency for energy security and the Lisbon Treaty itself increased the EU’s responsibility in energy policy. But these challenge of authority only contribute to the slowing of progress.

I worry that in this hiatus, two solitudes are developing:  two sides that have essentially stopped listening to each other about how to make progress in energy efficiency.  Both sides have valid claims but seem to have lost that willingness to carefully lay out one’s position in a way that it will be understood by the other side..

The energy efficiency community needs to strengthen its ability to explain that improved energy efficiency can and will make a much bigger contribution to addressing climate change, energy, and budget concerns of Member States through channels such as non-exportable job creation, economic activity, reduced fuel poverty, better health and living conditions, improvement of long-term infrastructure, and many, many more benefits.

But the case made by the energy efficiency communities has to be analytically sound, devoid of emotion and easily communicated and understood by the other communities involved.  And clearly, supporters of energy efficiency need to find allies in the energy supply industries, in the finance ministries, and among other stakeholder communities across the economy.

And the case made by other stakeholders really has to be listened to and understood.

For example, the energy supply industries, especially the electricity generators, seem now genuinely to be in constant fear that a surplus of electricity will be reached in the near future. For this reason they are opposing strong energy efficiency measures that can and will further reduce electricity demand and increase the surplus of electricity, lead to falling electricity prices and plunging profits. Increasing renewable energy production, combined with continuing production of coal- and gas-fired electricity due to low taxes on carbon, low ETS allowance prices/low EU CO2 targets have all been contributing to this perceived and possibly real danger of an imbalance on the electricity markets in several parts of Europe.

In short, there has to be much more of an effort to reach common understanding and consensus-building and much less running to the barricades to continue the long and destructive sniper war of  scoring of points on a given paragraph of the proposed directive and other policy proposals.

There is already some consensus that we must move to a low carbon society. We need desperately to make peace and to build on that consensus.

But consensus happens less when we talk than when we listen.  It really is time to listen.  And then we can truly start moving forward.

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