Commission laments member states’ lack of ambition on energy saving laws

Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete criticised the Council's changes but was thankful energy ministers were able to come to an agreement. [European Council]

The EU’s 28 energy ministers on Monday (26 June) agreed on a general approach to the revisions of two key energy efficiency directives. But the European Commission lamented a “significant reduction” in ambition compared with its original proposals.

During marathon talks in Luxembourg yesterday, the EU Energy Council managed to agree on the approach to two energy efficiency directives, which are both seen as crucial to meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

EU energy and climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete acknowledged that the agreement on the Energy Efficiency Directive was “not easy” but added that it fell “below the ambition of the Commission”.

EU energy ministers warned over dilution of energy savings ambition

The EU’s 28 energy ministers have underlined the “flexibility” necessary to achieve the bloc’s energy savings objectives for 2030, calling into question the European Commission’s ambition to put “energy efficiency first”, insiders have warned.

As expected, member states disagreed over whether the EU-wide 30% energy efficiency target should be legally binding or not. Some EU countries insisted it should only be indicative, while others went a step further and said it should be lowered to 27%.

The compromise proposal settled on a non-binding 30% target, which if adopted further down the line would mean an increase on the 20% target currently in force, which is also non-binding.

WWF recently released an infographic comparing the difference between a 30% target and a 40% target. It predicts costs of €40bn a year in healthcare alone as a result of air pollution and job losses totalling 4.4 million by 2030.

The evidence behind a 40% energy efficiency target

The myth about the negative impact of high-efficiency ambition on the competitiveness of EU member states is dismantled by the European Commission’s modelling results, writes Yamina Saheb.

Annual savings

A Commission target of 1.5% annual energy savings on end consumers was expected to be diluted to 1.4% ahead of the meeting. Instead, national delegates agreed to split the 2020-2030 period in half and have the 1.5% figure apply only until 2025.

The saving obligation would then automatically be scaled down to 1% annually for the remaining period, should the Commission’s 2024 assessment find that the EU is on course to reach its main energy consumption goal.

Cañete singled out charging points for electric vehicles as a particularly disappointing part of the Council’s general approach on the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, the other key legislative text under discussion.

He revealed that the Commission’s initial proposal, which could have seen over 3 million charging points rolled out into new and existing buildings, had been diluted by 96%. The Commissioner labelled it a “significant reduction” of the executive’s ambition.

New electrification alliance seeks top billing in EU’s decarbonisation efforts

Industry groups representing sectors as varied as wind and solar power, fuel cell batteries, copper and heat pumps, have clubbed together to launch the Electrification Alliance, with the hope that electricity will be recognised as the main energy carrier in Europe’s decarbonisation drive.

Bad deal better than no deal?

Greens MEP Claude Turmes said that the deal was “insufficient” but congratulated France, Germany, Luxembourg, Sweden and Ireland “who fought hard” for the text. He pledged to use his place on the European Parliament’s Industry Committee to “raise the ambition”.

The UK, Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovenia, Slovakia and Romania were singled out for undermining a stronger deal, with the WWF saying they “could not even support  the final weak deal”.

Although Cañete was non-plussed with the Council’s watering-down of certain parts of the executive’s proposals, he admitted that the “worst political scenario would have been to have no general approach”.

He also added that he hopes the scale of ambition shown by the Commission can be regained during upcoming talks with the Parliament. The Spanish Commissioner said the executive is now looking forward to the next step and that there are hopes trialogues can begin under the Estonian presidency.

New energy efficiency labels approved

In its first session of the day, the Council quickly adopted a revised energy efficiency label for household appliances. 

The current A+, A++, etc. green-to-red label will be replaced by a simpler A to G version, intended to help consumers make better informed choices. It will be accompanied by a public database.

Consumer surveys have shown that around 85% of European citizens take energy efficiency labels into account when buying products but that the old system was misleading.

New energy labels for appliances seen as boon for consumers

The European Parliament approved on Tuesday (June 13) the introduction of new energy labels for household appliances, which MEPs and industry experts said should enable consumers to save money and cut energy consumption while helping the bloc reduce overall carbon emissions.

Energy Union Commissioner Maroš Šefčovič said back in March that it is “high time to bring our labelling up to date”. His Spanish colleague, climate chief Cañete, claimed that the new scheme “can save households close to €500 per year”.

The European Environment Bureau, a coalition of green NGOs, welcomed the Council’s adoption of the new labels but warned that the absence of a common deadline could be a problem.

Product Policy Manager Stéphane Arditi said that “if one considers the increasing rate of technological advancement and market development, the agreed requirements risk becoming no longer relevant after eight years or more”.

Long freeze on new labels for heaters may slow innovation, decarbonisation

In a possible nod to industry demands, the EU’s new energy label regulations will allow a 10-year transition period for heaters until 2030, a move likely to confuse consumers, hinder innovation in clean technology and extend the market life of fossil-fuelled devices, critics said.

Nord Stream 2

Šefčovič used the opportunity of the Council meeting to present the Commission’s Nord Stream 2 mandate proposal to the 28 energy ministers. The Slovak Commissioner tweeted that the first debate showed strong support for the executive’s plan.

But Germany, France, the Netherlands and Austria are all understood to have not shown their cards yet, while Poland reiterated its opposition to the planned pipeline.

Yesterday’s Council meeting was the last of Malta’s presidency of the EU, as its time at the helm comes to an end this week. There was a handover ceremony during the meeting, in which Malta passed the baton to Estonia.

Commissioner Cañete thanked the Maltese presidency for the work it has done over the last six months during his closing remarks.

Clémence Hutin, climate justice and energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, said: These negotiations should have been about ramping up the EU’s climate efforts for 2030, instead we are risking a decade of inaction. EU governments have expressed deep regret at Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, yet they are turning their backs on the main tool for cutting emissions; energy efficiency.”

Benedek Jávor, Greens/EFA MEP said: "There is an engaged energy efficiency community that stands ready to raise ambition levels and invest massively in the energy transition. They just need the right signals from policymakers. To fully unlock this potential, all member states need to give their support. Where some countries lag behind, there is a real risk of higher energy costs and serious competition gaps."

Imke Lübbeke, head of climate and energy at WWF European Policy Office, said: “The EU’s ‘Clean Energy for all Europeans’ package has limped off the starting blocks and stumbled at the first hurdle. It should have been a no-brainer to support strong energy efficiency measures given the economic, climate and social benefits of doing so, and the ambition required by the Paris Agreement. Despite this, member states have rushed to appease the lowest common denominator to reach a quick but bad deal, rather than putting in more time to try and get a better deal.”

The Commission proposal on energy efficiency updates the current Directive 2012/27/EU and was presented by the Commission in November 2016. It's part of the extensive Clean Energy Package, the implementing tool of the Energy Union strategy.

The proposal on the energy performance of buildings amends Directive 2010/31/EU and was presented by the Commission in December 2016. It's part of the implementing legislation of the Energy Union Strategy and it has close links with the energy efficiency directive.

The general aim of the Energy Union strategy is to move towards the decarbonisation of the EU economy by 2030 and beyond, whilst strengthening economic growth, consumer protection, innovation and competitiveness.

Buildings are the largest single energy consumer in Europe, consuming 40% of final energy. The aim of the proposal is to promote energy efficiency in buildings and to support cost-effective building renovation with a view to the long term goal of decarbonising the highly inefficient existing European building stock.

This will also be a major contribution to reaching the EU's 2020 and 2030 energy efficiency targets.

  • October European Parliament's Industry Committee (ITRE) expected to adopt its reports on the two directives

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