Bernard Laponche is an engineer who helped to develop the first French nuclear plants before becoming alarmed by the potential risks of the technology. He has since worked as an energy efficiency consultant for several countries – including Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Poland and Hungary. He was also the chair of the UN’s E21 Commission for energy efficiency in buildings, and has been a member of several international energy efficiency bodies. He spoke to EurActiv’s energy and climate correspondent, Arthur Neslen.
What battles are being fought out in the European Commission over a 2030 energy efficiency target, and who is fighting them?
I think there is a tendency to try to reduce the targets, in particular to have a target for CO2 emissions, and not for energy efficiency and renewables. I think it is fundamental to keep the three targets, because they relate to different problems. We know that people want only one target. They hope that a target on carbon emissions will allow them to push nuclear energy - which would be a catastrophe.
But even if you give a climate target, it is not enough on its own to ensure the other objectives, which are energy security and economic development, particularly for poorer regions. I think that in the past, the European Commission and EU in general, were carefully targeting three global objectives: security of supply, social and economic development, and climate change.
Of course, with the problems raised with nuclear development - the accidents and waste problem - it is correct to have the three objectives. For me, the first main discussion should be on the question of energy savings or efficiency, and go on to reducing energy consumption, whatever the energy supply. Then, to have a shared growth of renewables in the energy mix, and third to ensure the objective of greenhouse gas emissions cuts - not only for CO2 but total greenhouse gas emissions.
Just focusing on CO2 is very dangerous because of methane. I worked with a colleague on the methane problem and its climate warming effect is much higher than CO2 – with one tonne of methane, the [global warming] factor is around 80 [times greater than CO2], but it decreases faster.
What do you think of the idea or sub- or sectoral-targets for energy efficiency, as with transport?
It is not easy to give proper sectoral targets because the share of each sector is a bit different from country to country, and some people could make [major] efforts in one sector, but a little less in another. What you really need is a global target and then you can say that we will help the countries we can study more precisely with [their targets for] industry, transport or residential buildings etc.
But if you only define targets for the climate and then give other targets which are second degree, I think it is dangerous because the politicians immediately consider that they are less important and that in fact the objectives should be only about the climate and, probably, only CO2. So I think the idea of the three original 20% goals was brilliant because politicians were obliged to say: “We agree on the three targets”. We see now in France the result that we have a debate on energy and people are fighting to keep the three objectives for 2020. If there had not been the objectives at the European level, I’m sure that it would not have been applied in France.
What is the significance of the different energy savings metrics cited by the Commission in the Green Paper?
In the past I worked on this question in the context of directives and objectives. Energy intensity is strongly related to gross national product - so that’s the problem with it. People have discussions for hours on the assumption that we have to use GDP, and so the figures are not very clear. I think that going to an energy consumption metric - as in the Energy Efficiency Directive - for the EU-27 countries on primary and final energy use is not bad because it is very practical.
If your objective is a primary energy use of 1,474 million tonnes of oil equivalent for 2020, and you reach 1,480 or even 1,500, it is not dramatic, but people can measure that. It is very easy to check whether the energy consumption total of 27 countries is on track or not. You can take measurements and tell a country, ‘Please do something about this’. With energy intensity, it is more difficult as you have to wait for more time to know the results and then people can complain that their growth was not exactly what was forecast etc.
Do you have any preference for ‘energy savings’ instead of ‘energy efficiency’ as a measuring term?
In the 1970s, we used ‘energy savings’ to qualify, more or less, the returns from energy efficiency and the attitude at the national level of some people in developing countries was to say: ‘Well, energy savings are for the rich. When we reach your level of energy consumption, we will begin to save.’
So behind the term ‘energy savings’, there was a meaning of restriction for many people. That is why we realised that what we were in fact doing at that time was not savings as a restriction on consumption but increasing the efficiency of the houses, buildings, cars, electric appliances etc. So we changed the term to ‘energy efficiency’. I think that the policy can be called energy efficiency and the target should be measured in the absolute value of energy consumption.
After that, you can discuss about the share that the countries have to make up. We have to be pragmatic too. If a country has a deep economic crisis, of course its energy consumption will be reduced - not by energy efficiency but by crisis. So the year after, we can help this country and monitor the evolution of energy consumption at the EU level by a dialogue with each country on how EU policy can help national policies.
How can we deal with the potential problem whereby energy efficiency savings can reduce emissions and thus the price of carbon allowances of the Emissions Trading System?
There will be a big problem with the ETS and energy efficiency – how to integrate them, and make them both work. We can increase the obligation, or the quantity quota of carbon credits. But I am not a great supporter of this carbon financing. I prefer a system of energy carbon taxes.
I am not sure that this financialisation of the climate is the most appropriate. I think what we need in fact is money to reduce energy consumption and develop renewables. For that, there are different methods and I’m not sure that carbon credits are the most appropriate. I think that a tax on final energy consumption of electricity, fuels etc is probably easier and you can obtain good results, as in Denmark or Germany for people using this system because you create a fund through the tax that can be used for energy efficiency and renewables. We need also at European level strong regulations and standards on the efficiency of buildings, appliances and other equipment, cars, and transport policies in favour of public transport and railways.
Is there a problem in the Green Paper’s focus on supply-side measures, carbon leakage and international negotiations? Even shale gas comes before energy efficiency as a source for reducing emissions…
There is a danger that climate policy could get lost. You have to discuss the objective. Most, if not all, countries will say that we already have objectives for greenhouse gas reductions, and that’s enough. There are economic and social difficulties. But why not put energy savings in the forefront for example, as the first subject in the Green Paper? That’s why I think that the three targets have to be discussed together, not just taking one and hoping that we will discuss the others. They are complimentary. It is stupid to say that we are going to discuss at length something very complicated like the problems around climate change and carbon credits, and then postpone the discussion on reducing energy consumption and renewables objectives.