How digital buildings can increase Europe’s energy efficiency

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Our daily lives are more connected and more reliant on the benefits electronic devices bring us. [Shutterstock]

Digitalisation opens up new avenues for us in many areas and modern technologies make our lives easier and more enjoyable. The EU’s pursuit of progress is admirable but constantly setting new targets is not always the best way to promote innovation, writes Herbert Reul.

Herbert Reul is a German MEP with the European People’s Party and represents the Christian Democratic Union at national level. He is a member of the European Parliament’s Committee on Industry, Research and Energy. This opinion-piece is part of the policy topic coverage on Think Digital – smart cities.

Smartphones are one of the most helpful tools used in everyday life, allowing us to make phone calls, manage appointments, surf the web, pay bills and perform countless other tasks.

While robots mow the law or vacuum the living room, we are free to use our time differently. A few years ago, restocking an empty fridge online or automatically seemed like something from science fiction, but today our smartphones can achieve that, as well as controlling the heating, lighting and blinds in our “smart homes”.

The future isn’t just confined to our homes though, it pervades our entire surroundings. A “smart city” is a difficult term to pin down. The basic concept of many of these aspects has the rapid exchange and analysis of user-related data as its basis.

Operations are automated, functionality is secured, new services are created and the digital economy is boosted as a result. Developing different options is not just about technological possibilities, it’s also about giving people alternatives and options.

For example, thanks to dynamic data and traffic information, the needs of people and road users can be better anticipated and met. We are talking about bus timetables, traffic lights and lane patterns, all adapting to changing demand.

Technical progress is also allowing energy consumption to be more accurately determined, analysed and optimised. This applies to the roofs over our head, electrical appliances and the wider economy, as well as the industrial sector.

Our daily lives depend more and more on electronic devices and the benefits they bring but they all need energy. Simultaneously, awareness about where we get our energy from and how we use it has grown too.

The EU has long sought increased energy efficiency in numerous sectors. It is ultimately in the interest of the consumer, as more efficiency means fewer and lower costs.

But this does mean additional costs at first for us citizens, whether it be buying new appliances, insulating our homes or upgrading our vehicles.

The EU has helped us make smart decisions on appliances since the 1990s with its energy label, which is used EU-wide to grade fridges, washing machines, vacuum cleaners, etc.

It’s a success story for Europe as electrical appliances have improved on a technical basis since the label was introduced. The label is now being revised by European lawmakers so that it will continue to provide consumers with clear information.

Potential energy savings are in the manufacturers’ court, as they are the ones that are having to develop ever more efficient appliances. Ultimately, it’s great for the European economy’s international standing.

Another possible source of huge savings is in how our energy actually reaches us. An efficiently built and developed energy grid, which includes the entire EU single market, means less loss of power.

Cross-border energy exchanges can also balance out energy surplus and demand. This solution to unlocking all of this potential is not new rules, which frustrate citizens and increase Euroscepticism, but innovation.

In the Commission’s “Clean Energy for All Europeans” package, a big emphasis is put on energy efficiency and the executive is proposing a binding energy saving target of 30% per year by 2030.

Personally, I believe this target is too high. We don’t need to constantly set ourselves new targets; better that we implement the current plans we have, across the entire EU.

We should be working towards fulfilling the 20/20/20 targets instead. Energy efficiency and climate protection are important, as is the creation of jobs and preserving wealth. That needs a well-functioning European industry.

So we need to make progress but let’s not overdo it. Smart policies set targets that apply to all but putting all our eggs in just one basket endangers other important projects.

This article is part of the policy topic coverage on Think Digital – smart cities