Digitalisation takes centre stage at Brussels energy forum

A smart meter, an electronic device that records consumption of electric energy for consumers and energy companies to analyse. [miheco/Flickr]

Policymakers and industry leaders on Tuesday (28 March) called for an increase in digitalisation in keeping with the EU’s energy efficiency directives.

A report from international energy consultancy Ecofys, presented in Brussels earlier this week, detailed the hidden energy savings potential in buildings, pointing out that 30% of the EU’s entire energy consumption is through heating and cooling buildings.

“Optimising technical building systems not only makes building environments more efficient, it empowers building users to better understand their environment – proactively managing their energy usage and maintaining a healthy, comfortable and productive living environment,” the report said.

The report, titled “Optimising the energy use of technical building systems”, was presented on Tuesday at the 3rd EU Energy Summit, a Brussels stakeholder forum.

The EU launched the Energy Efficiency Directive in 2012 and updated it in November of 2016. The directive established rules in an effort to help the EU reach its 20% energy efficiency target by 2020.

Under the directive, EU members are required to use energy efficiently at each stage of the energy chain, starting at production and ending at final consumption.

Energy Efficiency Directive: Completing an energy policy puzzle

The European Union put down the last piece of the bloc's 2020 climate and energy policy puzzle by adopting an Energy Efficiency Directive. The directive is a game-changer for energy companies, which are now required to achieve 1.5% energy savings every year among their final clients. The EU law is also expected to trigger the largest revamp of Europe's existing building stock to date and set new standards for public procurement and energy audits.

Reaping the benefits

The Ecofys report said 300,000 jobs could be created in Europe through manufacturing and installing energy efficient products and services.

But in order to reap the benefits, member states must be encouraged to address the most efficient order of measures in their national long-term renovation strategies, Ecofys said.

Panelists at the summit agreed that EU member states need to prioritise efficiency.

Monique Goyens, director general of BEUC, the EU consumer organisation, explained that an obstacle member states face in becoming more efficient is that consumers simply don’t view the energy market as interesting.

“Most people find energy boring, it just has to turn on and off, it has to work.” She said that she considers herself an educated consumer but still has difficulty understanding all parts of her own energy bill.

“I don’t accept references to consumers being lazy,” Goyens added. “Being a consumer in the 20th century is so complicated, reading labels, policies, conditions and bills of energy providers— which aren’t clear, and only come once a year in many countries; people don’t understand them.”

Kaja Kallas, an Estonian MEP from the liberal ALDE group in the European Parliament, said consumers in Estonia have benefited from the country’s 100% use of smart meters, which are electronic devices that record consumption of electric energy.

She said that the devices have made citizen more aware of their consumption, which has lowered their energy bills.

“When prices go down, consumers are happy,” Kallas said. She added that the Commission is “not that ambitious about rolling out smart meters.”

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SPECIAL REPORT / Europe’s ambitious plan for 80% market penetration of smart meters by 2020 is failing to live up to expectations. A senior energy official at the European Commission admits that market penetration is still very low, particularly in the new member states, and that there is a big shortfall in investment.

“Every player in the market needs access to the data,” added Peter Vermaat, CEO of Enexis.

Nikolai Lyngø, senior vice-president and head of corporate strategy at Staoil, said the uncertainty following Brexit and the election of US president Donald Trump is the energy strategy’s biggest obstacle.

“We need clear direction, stability and predictability from policy makers,” he insisted.