EU’s 2030 radar tracks buildings efficiency and new 'constraints’

  

Environmentalists fear that the European Commission’s energy department is launching a new push for business-friendly climate goals for 2030 which could advance buildings efficiency action at the expense of measures in the industry, power and transport sectors.

Debate on whether Europe needs binding 2030 targets for energy efficiency and renewables – as well as greenhouse gas emissions – is heating up ahead of an EU communication on the subject later this year.

One new study by the Frauhofer Institute last week found that a 41% increase in energy savings by 2030 would be cost-efficient – and simultaneously offer cuts in CO2 emissions of up to 61%. 

Speaking at a Eurogas conference on 9 October, Paul Hodson, the head of the EU’s energy efficiency unit said that the EU was committed to full decarbonisation by 2050.

“But we absolutely need to add a competitiveness constraint and we absolutely need to add a security of supply constraint,” he said, adding that the three objectives had to be integrated so that different scenarios and options could be tested.

“We believe that there is a balanced outcome that can deliver on the carbon objectives but also deliver on the industrial objectives,” Hodson said. “That is a case we will need to make and the 2030 package is part of that.”

In a surprising twist, the EU’s top energy efficiency official also flagged a new ‘squeeze’ on buildings' CO2 emissions – to appreciation from a gas industry looking for new ways to lower its greenhouse gas quotient, as hopes for carbon capture and storage recede.

But Hodson’s words may furrow green brows, as a row brews over claims that German influence has pushed the EU to stack its modeling scenarios for 2030 climate goals away from fair consideration of energy efficiency in the industrial and transport sectors.

Friends of the Earth Europe’s energy expert, Brook Riley, last week claimed in a blog that German heavy industry and car interests had persuaded the European Commission’s energy department to “deliberately downplay the energy savings potential of their sectors” in EU modeling scenarios for 2030.

German interests

Riley contends that, behind the scenes, the German Commissioner, Gunther Oettinger is pushing for 2030 targets for buildings and energy intensity, a position reputedly advanced by German firms such as Bayer and BASF.

“An energy intensity target covers the ratio between GDP and energy use and doesn’t actually oblige any reduction in industrial energy use,” Riley told EurActiv. “It is what business does anyway. Oettinger also favours an objective for buildings and while that is great, we also need a lot more from industry, transport and the power sector, and it narrows the scope of what is possible.”

One arena for this alleged narrowing of scope is the EU’s energy efficiency unit, headed by Hodson, which is responsible for some of the EU’s 2030 modeling scenarios.

“We have to live with the results of the models in terms of the balance between different objectives,” Hodson told the Eurogas conference. 

But EurActiv has seen claims by EU officials that its scenarios have been calibrated to omit many inputs showing cost-savings from energy efficiency policies such as increased property values, lower health bills and climate change-related costs.

In private, the allegation is stoutly denied by an EU energy policy establishment, which views the scenarios as complicated works-in-progress that should not be viewed in isolation, or outside of their temporal context.

Inputs may change from month to month, and the unit feels constrained by the June 2014 review of the Energy Efficiency Directive and 2020 targets that Oettinger cites as reason to delay any decision on efficiency goals for 2030.

But Riley cites a ‘rumour’ that the Commission's energy policy unit is also arguing for a concentration of energy savings measures in buildings – rather than the transport, energy production or industry – sectors.

Key details of the rumour have been heard at the highest levels of the Commission, EurActiv has learned, although debate over the inputs for the 2030 model scenarios is thought to be ongoing.

‘Squeeze the buildings’

Interestingly, Hodson told the Eurogas conference that existing obligations for public sector building renovations under the Energy Efficiency Directive – currently riddled with loopholes – should be tightened before 2020.

“We’ve squeezed the appliances part of our policies quite hard in the last couple of years but we will [also] need to squeeze the buildings they are in and the building systems, as well as the industrial systems,” he said.

Any move in this direction would be welcomed by enthusiasts for energy efficiency in a buildings sector responsible for some 40% of Europe’s end use CO2 emissions.

But it is not a classic ‘low hanging fruit’, and if modeling for energy savings in 2030 is tilted to attribute too many savings to the buildings sector, it will likely rule out an overall energy savings target for being too expensive and contested, Riley argues.

This process would not be helped by a rapidly diminishing ‘high discount rate’ for energy savings investment benefits used in the Commission's models, he says. 

Industry v NGO split

Riley’s theory has split industry and NGO wings of the usually tight-knit energy efficiency community, which has found it difficult to get an airing for their argument to continue universal energy savings targets into the 2030 period.  “What Brook is saying is totally disingenuous,” one buildings efficiency advocate told EurActiv.

“Buildings are an important area and deservedly so,” he went on. “It is not benefiting at the expense of industry, which also has a huge [energy savings] potential. It is just that [the savings from] buildings are bigger and can be tapped more readily. The sector is getting so much attention at the moment because the market is waking up to the fact that it is a good investment where you can get a huge return if you move quickly.”

He added that this should not be used as an excuse to ignore energy savings from industry and the transport sector. 

The president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, surprised many onlookers on 9 October, when he enthused to a Renovate Europe conference, that building renovations could create two million European jobs by 2030.

“A lot is moving in the right direction but Brook calls it a bad move,” the industry source added. “It is actually a good move that will generate funds, jobs and growth.”

However, another prominent figure in the energy efficiency community told EurActiv that while Riley had a “particular style,” his core message was “probably correct.”

“There simply isn’t enough attention being paid to energy efficiency and when it is, the wrong assumptions are being made and the potential is being underestimated to make it less attractive-looking,” he said. “In their equations, the EU does not take into account the benefits of energy efficiency, they simply look at the costs.”

Timeline: 
  • By end of 2013: Communication on 2030 targets expected
  • 2014: Review of progress towards meeting the 2020 energy efficiency target
  • May 2014: EU member states must prepare schemes for their energy companies to deliver annual energy savings of 1.5%
  • 2014, 2016: European Commission to review the directive
  • 2020: Deadline for EU states to meet voluntary 20% energy-efficiency target
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