Brussels puts 30% energy savings target on the table for 2030

Günther Oettinger, German Commissioner for energy, 2009-2014 [European Commission]
Günther Oettinger, German Commissioner for energy, 2009-2014. [European Commission]

The European Commission on Wednesday (23 July) proposed reducing the bloc's energy use by 30% by 2030, leaving it up to EU heads of states to decide whether or not to endorse the target at a forthcoming summit in October.

The EU executive has been considering new targets to replace the EU's existing 2020 goals to reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases, ramp up renewable energies and increase energy savings.

“I’m happy that the Commission unanimously agreed on a proposal for a 30% higher efficiency target,” said Günther Oettinger, the EU Commissioner responsible for energy policy.

The European Commission called the target "achievable" yet "ambitious", arguing in its communication that it “strikes the right balance between benefits and costs”.

Tensions between Europe and Russia since the downing of the Malaysia Airlines plane put the issue of energy security once more on the agenda of policy makers. Over the past few days, civil society as well as EU parliamentarians stressed that more energy efficiency will reduce Europe’s dependency on Russian gas.

But, said the German Commissioner, “the target cannot be measured solely in one specific fossil fuel. Whether the reduction [of the energy use] is done in the gas sector, oil sector or coal sector depends on the energy policy, on the ETS policy and on national policies”.

Member states pressure

In recent weeks, the European Commission’s ambitions on energy efficiency have dropped considerably. A report by the Commission, seen by EurActiv in June, showed a target of 40% was under consideration.

EU’s energy efficiency review puts high target on agenda on EurActiv

EU’s energy efficiency review puts high target on agenda

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Asked why the Commission did not opt for a more ambitious target, the Commissioner pointed out that efficiency requires renovations of buildings or homes, as well as investments in innovation for utilities or products.

“The 30% target has a decent chance to get support in the European Council,” Oettinger said, suggesting that a higher target would likely be refused.

Ahead of the European Commission's announcement, France’s energy minister was reported to support the 30% figure as a compromise, together with Germany.

France throws weight behind 30% energy savings goal on EurActiv

France throws weight behind 30% energy savings goal

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“We’ve been discussing the issue of energy efficiency more intensely with the member states, but also with the European Parliament,” Oettinger stated. “It is the figure we are going to take to the Council and we’re going to ask for feedback: is it something you can support politically and are you willing to make it binding.”

In October, the communication will land on the table of national governments in Council. While member states are expected to go for the suggested target, another key question is whether that should be binding or not.

Following the announcement, civil society organisations, as well as business representatives, called the decision of the Commission to land at 30% “downright irresponsible” and “a recipe for failure”. MEPs from all mainstream factions in the Europe, too, spoke out clearly, stressing that the European Parliament backed a 40% target earlier this year. (See positions below.)

Targets for 2020 not reached

EurActiv reported Wednesday (23 July) on the assessment on the EU’s 2020 targets, released jointly with the 2030 target. The EU will fail to reach its goals on saving energy and improving energy efficiency, the Commission officially acknowledged on Wednesday.

“By our analysis we can say we will be achieving 18% to 19% of energy efficiency,” Oettinger commented to reporters.

EU member states not reaching 2020 energy efficiency goals, Commission says on EurActiv

EU member states not reaching 2020 energy efficiency goals, Commission says

More on EurActiv »

According to the EU executive, the outcome for 2020 lies in the hands of member states: “If the member states were prepared to implement fully the legally binding measures, then we would achieve the 20% figure,” said Oettinger.


- European Parliament -

Belgian socialist MEP Kathleen Van Brempt, the S&D vice-president in charge of sustainable development, described the target as “a missed opportunity” and deplored the lack of ambition by the European Commission. “The Commission has ignored its own modelling which apparently showed that a 40% target could grow the economy at a rate of 4% a year, create an annual 3.15% boost in employment and massively cut fossil fuel imports by up to €500 billion annually,” she said.

Swedish liberal MEP Frederick Federley, who is the ALDE’s spokesperson on industry, research and energy, commented: "My hope and expectation is that the European Parliament will continue to press for a much higher binding energy efficiency target in response. ALDE MEPs remain committed to the delivery of ambitious and binding energy efficiency targets that can tackle climate change, unlock low carbon investment and deliver green jobs.”

Green energy spokesperson Claude Turmes, Luxembourgish MEP, said: "What the Commission is proposing today on energy efficiency is devoid of true ambition, is not cost-effective and will prolong Europe's dependency on fuel imports from Russia and other unreliable exporters. […] Incoming Commission president Juncker has already signalled significantly greater ambition on energy efficiency and we hope that he and EU governments will pursue this approach for the EU's 2030 policy and not the business-as-usual policy being outlined today. The non-binding 2030 energy savings target of 30% being proposed by the Commission today is at odds with the Commission's own research on which the communication was supposed to be based.”

- Civil society & business organisations -

Arianna Vitali, policy officer for energy conservation at WWF European Policy Office, said: “The Commission’s approach is a recipe for failure. The EU executive not only fails once again to suggest a binding target for 2030, but also recommends a level of ambition that is no more than a business as usual approach […] While the Commission’s draft impact assessment, leaked in June, shows that a 40% energy efficiency target in Europe would boost jobs and GDP and cut the EU’s fossil fuel import bill and dependency on Russian gas, the European Commission seems to have decided to ignore its own new data. It is now up the EU Heads of State and Government to show they are serious […].”

Markus J. Beyrer, director general of BusinessEurope, the leading EU employers' association, said: "[T]he proposed three-target approach risks, once again, being counterproductive. What companies want are immediate actions to reduce our uncompetitive energy prices in the EU. Insisting on a multi-target approach will again bring inefficiencies and additional regulatory burdens.”

Adrian Joyce, secretary general of the European Alliance of Companies for Energy Efficiency in Buildings (EuroACE), said: “Such a weak figure for Energy Efficiency is inconsistent with what the market is asking, what citizens are asking, what member states are asking and even what evidence-based research is saying. The outgoing Commission is deliberately turning a blind eye to the increased benefits of setting a 40% Energy Efficiency target - acknowledged even in the Commission’s own Impact Assessment.”

Pieter de Pous, policy director at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) commented: “With everything pointing to a binding 40% savings target being the best for Europe, proposing anything less than that is downright irresponsible.”

Ingrid Holmes, associate director at E3G, an organisation working on sustainable development, said: “A 30% target will leave cost-effective energy savings potential untapped. In an era of rising energy prices and concerns about reliance on Russian gas this makes no sense at all. […] Let’s hope the incoming President and College of Commissioners can make an early start on sorting this mess out.”

Greenpeace's policy adviser on EU policy, Frederic Thoma, called the plan "gutless", saying "[a]n ambitious efficiency target would drastically cut the need for expensive imports of fossil fuels from Russia and elsewhere and help Europe stand up to bullies like Putin. The Commission’s own research shows efficiency could also create three-and-a-half million jobs, while helping tackle climate change. It’s a no-brainer that EU leaders cannot ignore. They must put Europe’s energy policy back on track.”

  • October 2014: Member states decide on the energy efficiency targets in the EU Council
  • September 2014: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon hosts climate summit in New York
  • October 2014: European Council expected to agree 2030 climate and energy targets
  • December 2014: UNFCCC Climate Summit in Lima, Peru
  • Dec. 2015: UNFCCC Climate Summit in Paris expected to agree outline of global legally-binding climate treaty
  • 2017: Next review of the measures on energy efficiency planned by the Commission
  • 2020: Deadline for EU to meet target of 20% greenhouse gas reduction as measured against 1990 levels, a 20% share for renewable energy in the bloc's energy mix, and a non-binding goal of a 20% energy efficiency improvement, measured against 2005 levels
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Mike Parr's picture

The 30% target is a start (with emphasis on the word start). It could/should have been higher. One reason why is the high levels of cost savings that flow from energy efficiency (EE) investments. Conveniently, (a coincidence?) on the same day as the DG Energy COMM, the EIB announced an EE investment in Bucharest.

In summary the total project will cost Euro 182m to save 190GWhrs/year.
Assume lifetime of 80 years for refurb then:
182 x 10x6/190 x 10x6 kwhrs x 80 = 1.2 eurocents/kWhr

Expressing this another way: the cost to save 1kWhr is 1.2eurocents. This is far lower than even the cost of RES energy, illustrating that EE really is the least cost way to address de-carbonisation & indeed save European citizens money.

The potential for large-scale energy efficiency projects across Europe is massive. These projects are also labour intensive as well as using material and technology mostly sourced in Europe. This raises the final question: why not go hell for leather in launching EE projects in all member states?

lighthouse's picture

Why not live in caves and use candles while we're at it... massive energy saving all round!

Mike Parr's picture

Alert alert, Mr Lighthouse's brain is missing ... it's about the size of a walnut - please return to Mr Lighthouse if you find it.

Jean-Sébastien Broc's picture

As important as whether the target will end to be binding or not, would be to know the indicator used to define the level of the target, the reference level (or baseline) and how the achievements would be measured and verified.
Unlike targets for Renewable Energy Sources and GHG emissions, a target on energy efficiency or energy savings will always be relative to a baseline and an accounting system.
The 9% target defined in 2006 in the Energy Services Directive has been an example of how a target could be stripped of its contents, once almost everything can be accounted for as energy savings.
These issues have been recently discussed in an ECEEE paper on binding targets for sustainable energy demand.

lighthouse's picture

The bigger picture here is whether energy efficiency regulations are a good way to deal with energy issues and how they imply that consumers are "stupid in the choices they make".
Rather than a continual saving fervour, production issues should be considered.

All products from buildings to cars to washing machines and light bulbs have different advantages - otherwise no-one would buy the "wrong alternatives.
"Unfortunately", as per the EU justification for regulations, consumers are not buying sufficient amounts of "right" product i.e. that supposedly save energy (in usage, if not in some of their complex life cycle including construction and recycling) .
Certainly usage saving is one advantage - and that can properly be marketed
(compare Duracell batteries, Fairy liquid etc "expensive to buy but cheap in the long run").
But other products have other advantages, beyond price.
If not - and they questionably have to be targeted - they could be taxed, and the money used to subsidise lower prices on alternatives, keeping choice on an equalised market.
Consumers can always be informed of their choices and make relevant decisions on that basis.

Politicians should focus on energy production, if necessary with a coal tax and similar - rather than chasing consumers around regarding the products they want to use.
As it happens, companies lobby the EU to set patented "green" standards that ban the competition (eg light bulbs) - rather than compete fairly on the market place.