Europe outlines 9-step plan to save energy, Ukraine and the planet

“Energy saving actions by EU citizens could save enough oil to fill 120 supertankers and enough gas to heat 20 million homes – and save a typical EU household an average of nearly €500 a year,” said Fatih Birol, head of the IEA on 21 April. [EPA-EFE/Ole Berg-Rusten NORWAY OUT]

Together with the European Commission, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has presented a 9-step plan to reduce the EU’s dependence on Russian fossil fuels, save households’ money, and protect the climate.

As Russia’s war in Ukraine enters its third month, energy prices are higher than ever and households are buckling under the strain. To alleviate the impact on the poorest, policymakers are turning towards a tested concept: energy conservation.

“Energy saving actions by EU citizens could save enough oil to fill 120 supertankers and enough gas to heat 20 million homes – and save a typical EU household an average of nearly €500 a year,” the IEA’s Fatih Birol said on Thursday (21 April).

Together with the EU executive, his agency has come up with nine actions that citizens can take in order to “save money, reduce reliance on Russian energy, support Ukraine and help the planet.”

EU citizens are shocked by the “human tragedy and humanitarian disaster” in Ukraine, said Ditte Juul Jørgensen, EU-Commission Director-General for Energy. “The one thing that each of us can do individually, at home and at work, is to save energy,” she told a webinar presenting nine steps that citizens can take to save energy.

  1. Turn down heating and use less air-conditioning (19°C or 20°C instead of the EU average of 22°C)
  2. Adjust your boiler’s settings (lower temperatures set at boilers can save around €100 each year)
  3. Work from home (commuting accounts for around a quarter of oil use in EU cars)
  4. Use your car more economically (making car trips with multiple people, relying on air conditioning less)
  5. Reduce your speed on highways (driving an average of 10 km/h slower will reduce average fuel bills by €60 per year)
  6. Leave your car at home on Sunday in large cities
  7. Walk or bike short journeys instead of driving (a third of EU car journeys are less than three kilometres)
  8. Use public transport
  9. Skip the plane, take the train

For those anxious in the face of continued atrocities in Ukraine and desperate to act, the IEA guidelines may offer a rough indication of how to proceed ahead of the coming winter, which is considered the most crucial.

“If we want to fill our gas storages for next winter, every cubic meter of gas which we save now helps already,” explained Claude Turmes, Luxembourg’s energy minister.

But the IEA’s guidelines also highlight the changing environment in Europe.

The Green Brief: It’s now or never for energy conservation

EU countries are scrambling for new sources of gas to phase out Russian fossil fuels and punish Moscow for its brutal war in Ukraine. But in the rush to diversify, Europe once again risks overlooking a no-regret solution: energy conservation.

Finally, the business case is right

Until now, energy savings were made economically unattractive by the abundance of cheap Russian gas. European governments and companies had fewer incentives to save energy than other large industrial nations like Japan, which became an “efficiency superpower” after the 1970s oil shock.

But things are changing. “We are now entering a phase of high fossil fuel energy prices, and that will last,” explained Patrick Graichen, the German state secretary for economy and climate and right-hand man of vice-chancellor Robert Habeck.

Taking German businesses and industry as an example, Graichen said the existing energy efficiency potential there typically had “payback periods of two to three years” before the Ukraine war. “Typically that wasn’t pursued because it wasn’t relevant when it comes to the big cost points of a company.”

Today, “energy efficiency has a totally different value than we thought” because of sustained high energy prices and the need to phase out Russian gas, he said.

The economic case for saving energy has indeed never been stronger. The latest research by Fraunhofer, a German public institute, shows that energy savings have become more attractive economically as energy prices rise.

Less burden on citizens, more government action

However, households need to be supported in their effort to save energy, Graichen said. “We need to have this as a joint exercise of governments through regulation, and action by citizens and companies,” he stated.

Since it came to power last year, the German government coalition has struggled with energy savings regulations, refraining for example to impose a speed limit on highways.

But sometimes politics “don’t work that way,” Graichen added, saying he was “coming from a country which doesn’t even have a speed limit yet,” although it “is an absolute no-brainer.”

His position for governmental action on energy efficiency was shared by Luxembourg’s Claude Turmes, who also spoke at the event.

“We need also EU-wide measures like speed limits, an EU-coordinated approach to home office and an EU-coordinated approach, for example, for temperature control in the official buildings,” he explained.

“Every kWh of energy saved counts and puts Europe in a better position going forward, regardless of what the future holds,” commented Matthias Buck, director at the German think-tank Agora Energiewende.

“Governments across Europe should drive this forward!” he added.

Germans asked to conserve energy to reduce reliance on Russia

Germans should start saving energy to become more independent from Russian fossil fuels, Economic Minister Robert Habeck said, as Europe’s biggest country looks for ways to cut reliance on Moscow.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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