The second Rural Energy Day in Brussels on Wednesday (21 September) included the publication of a new study which showed the outstanding carbon footprint of Europe's rural areas. Local communities use more polluting energy sources than urban areas and consequently have high greenhouse gas emissions, the study concluded.
This situation mainly results from a lack of access to natural gas grids and the use of higher-carbon fuels such as heating oil and coal in rural areas, it said.
But this does not need to be the case as rural areas have the potential to increase their renewables use and lower-carbon fuel sources are available, stakeholders stressed at the event
Several options are readily available including using solar panels to heat up water, producing electricity with photovoltaics, or biomass from trees, plants, manure and waste. Other technologies highlighted at the event included combined heat and power systems, geothermal heat pumps, liquefied petroleum gas cookers and central heating boilers.
Stakeholders at the event called for more political attention and financial incentives from the EU and its member states to help rural areas generate their own energy in a more sustainable way.
The FREE initiative, which organised the Brussels event, was founded in 2010 by SHV gas, a Dutch liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) distributor that seeks to act as a single voice on rural energy matters at European level. The FREE members, which include other industrial sectors and local representatives, are urging policymakers to pay attention to energy issues in areas of low economic activity and acknowledge their potential for cutting carbon emissions.
It called on the European Commission to focus its next long-term budget not only on large-scale energy infrastructure projects but also to allocate funds to "decentralised energy production and supply, especially in the areas where this type of energy production is the most effective."
FREE also hopes that the Commission will link the EU budget to the bloc's Energy Efficiency Directive and make sure that enough funds are attributed to this topic in rural housing.
Adrian Joyce, secretary-general of EuroACE, a trade group which focuses on energy savings in buildings, said the issue was particularly relevant in rural areas, where the existing building stock is generally older and less energy efficient.
"I was an architect myself for many years and I never got a commission for a new farm building or a new farm house, never. So the stock in rural areas has to be renovated to reduce energy demand," he said.
According to FREE, rural homes use on average more energy because of the building type and poor insulation and in this sense rural areas could champion energy efficiency in Europe.
While there was a general consensus to support rural areas in accessing and saving energy, stakeholders also agreed that innovative financing mechanisms were needed to achieve these. Money is actually already there but a different "innovative" way is needed to access to it, they argued.
Dutch MEP Lambert van Nistelrooij (European People's Party) noted that "7% of regional policy funds are already allocated to energy efficiency and sustainable energy. However, these funds are hardly used on the regional and national level, that of course is a missed opportunity."
Adrian Joyce from EuroACE took the German banking group KFW as a good example of this. Since 2006, the bank has financed building renovations by delivering loans for businesses and individuals at rates lower than the average.