Experts question viability of ‘timid’ EU energy plan

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The European Commission finally launched its calculations on how to reach a 20% increase in energy efficiency by 2020 yesterday (8 March) but as it did so, senior policy figures were questioning the maths.

Stefan Scheuer, managing director of the SPRL environmental consultancy and former policy director at the European Environmental Bureau, predicted that the plan would fail "for the simple reason that it does not set itself specific sectoral or member state-relevant targets".

"The plan is far too timid to reassure us that it can achieve the 20% target," he told EURACTIV.

The Commission's low carbon roadmap for 2050, which was also launched yesterday, says that emissions reductions of 25% can be reached by 2020 – a much-needed 5% increase on the EU's official target – but only if the energy savings goal are met.

"We need to start the transition towards a competitive low-carbon economy now," Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard stressed yesterday. "The longer we wait, the higher the cost will be."

But Randall Bowie, an energy consultant who in 2006 was the desk officer responsible for designing the Commission's Energy Efficiency Action Plan and Energy Services Directive, forecast that the goal would not be met by the efficiency plan on the table.

"If you have [binding] targets it ensures that the member states will do a good and ambitious job of implementation and transposition," he said, speaking over the phone.

Without obligations on implementation and verification, "you're less likely to meet the target," he added.

Luigi Meli, director-general of the European Committee of Domestic Equipment Manufacturers (CECED), agreed.

"Waiting until 2013 to make a further assessment on whether Europe is behind target is totally unjustified," he told EURACTIV.

"There are some good intentions in the plan but not the sense of urgency that is required to redress the situation now."

In January, Commission President José Manuel Barroso called for "concrete steps" to meet the EU's target.

Many expected firm legal targets to be announced this year. But the document only proposes to review whether these are necessary at the end of 2013.   

By then, time will be "getting fairly short," Bowie said, "and you'll have to start speaking in terms of longer-range targets with intermediate targets in between".

Yet EU diplomats claim a "firm conviction" that the proposed measures will be effective. The plan's leading principle "is to propose stringent binding measures without binding national targets,"  the document says.

Around 40% of the current energy efficiency gap should be covered by a national energy saving obligation scheme that will yield savings of up to 100 million tonnes of oil a year by 2020, diplomats say.

Another 30% will come from the roll out of legislation to ensure performance-based energy contracting and the rest from measures such as a requirement for public authorities to refurbish at least 3% of their buildings each year.

New legislation is also promised on eco-design labelling for windows, and 'split incentive' situations in which tenants and landlords are reluctant to pay for energy savings.

But in the absence of national sectoral targets to weigh the progress of these measures, Scheuer said it was "wishful thinking" to imagine they would bring the desired outcome.

Randall Bowie was particularly concerned that the 3% target for building renovations only applied to the public sector – 12% of Europe's building stock – and, even there, lacked detail.

"Utilities have to be given very clear long term requirements and not go in and do the very quick, cherry picking-type of shallow renovations," he said. 

"There's a need for the member states to be required to develop long-term building renovation targets. You have to address the private sector more carefully and they haven't done that. By leaving it out they make it more difficult to reach the 2050 objective."

Brook Riley of Friends of the Earth told EURACTIV that "the Commission's new energy plan fails to propose binding measures or indeed anything at all concrete to reduce energy use. Barroso is being blatanty contradictory - complaining the EU is not on track to meet efficiency targets for 2020 but in the same breath putting off stronger action until 2013". 

Erica Hope, senior policy officer at the Climate Action Network, reinforced his message. "The Commission's impact assessment allows only that there is a 'good chance' the measures in the Plan will achieve the 20% target," she told Euractiv. "But with the Plan leaving so much to member states' discretion, even this may be optimistic. The pledges submitted so far under Europe 2020 indicate that Member States' ambition level will amount to considerably less than 20%."

The influential industry association, BusinessEurope, cautiously welcomed the plan. "To meet our climate and energy challenges, priority must be given to untapped potential to improve energy efficiency, e.g. in buildings," the group's statement read.

"The proposed 'Energy Efficiency Plan 2011' provides a good basis for discussion. The concrete proposals contained in the Plan will have to be carefully scrutinised to ensure smart and supportive energy efficiency policies for all sectors," it said.

Another business association, Eurochambres, was pleased that no binding targets were included in the document. "Given current international tensions, the renewed EU focus on energy efficiency is legitimate," said Arnaldo Abruzzini, its secretary-general. "Increased energy efficiency is a cost-effective way to reduce our dependence on oil and gas imports."

"The introduction of binding targets would create uncertainty and administrative burdens.  Businesses, especially smaller ones, need more information and financial incentives to increase the uptake of energy audits and to ensure effective follow-up measures," Abruzzini stated.

The European Alliance to Save Energy (EU-ASE) disagreed, citing concerns about the absence of binding targets and new legislation. Monica Frassoni, EU-ASE's president, said: "All EU institutions recognise that the European Union is falling dangerously short of its 2020 energy efficiency target; it is therefore hard to understand why this new Energy Efficiency Plan lacks the ambition or concrete measures needed to put Europe back on track. The simple fact of removing the word 'Action' from the title will add to stakeholders' concerns."

"Europe's energy efficiency industries are currently some of the best in the world, but without an ambitious policy agenda on energy efficiency for Europe, we risk being left behind as others regions take the lead,” the Alliance's chairman, Tony Robson, group CEO of Knauf Insulation, further explained.

"It is striking to see that the ambitious objectives set for the building sector for 2050 are not match by more concrete proposals in the Energy Efficiency Plan to step up building renovation," said Bertrand Cazes, secretary-general of Glass for Europe.

"The Commission will have to propose concrete measures by way of the upcoming Energy Savings Directive and to set aside sufficient funds in the post-2013 multiannual budget plan, otherwise the renovation of Europe's buildings runs the risk of staying only a sheer chimera," he added.

The Green Party's energy spokesperson Claude Turmes used perhaps the strongest language in reaction to the efficiency plan. "The Commission has today presented a 'plan' for inaction on energy efficiency in the EU," Turmes said. "Given the plan is little more than an empty shell with no new, meaningful, concrete EU measures on energy efficiency being proposed, it is hardly surprising that [Energy] Commisioner [Günther] Oettinger dropped the word 'action' from the title of the document."

"Despite EU member states continually recommitting to the 20% energy savings target, most recently on 4 February, the Commission is failing to come forward with concrete proposals to bridge the wide gap towards meeting the target. The plan depends heavily on national level measures for achieving the 20% target but, given the national targets for energy efficiency member states have submitted as part of the Europe 2020 strategy, these are likely to be insufficient to bridge the gap," Turmes said.

Eurogas, an association of natural gas producers had a different take. The group's press release said that it "wholeheartedly endorses the Commission's emphasis on energy efficiency in the transition to a resource-efficient economy and a key to sustainable growth. We appreciate especially the emphases in the Action Plan on energy efficiency in buildings, which indeed offer the greatest savings potential, and on the efficient generation of heat and electricity, for which gas is a fuel of choice".

"Eurogas welcomes the decision by the Commission not to propose binding efficiency targets at this stage, although we are concerned that some of the obligatory measures which could be contemplated would distort existing market mechanisms," it said. 

"In particular, the upgrading of generation capacity, based on the BAT (best available technology) principle, would risk imposing high costs and might phase out existing low efficiency fossil fuel-fired peak or back-up generation capacity, which is necessary to ensure security of supply," Eurogas added. 

"A cost-efficient approach should be market-based, with a well-balanced incentive scheme that preserves the free investment choice of market operators. In general member states should have the freedom to decide how users can be best encouraged to reduce their energy consumption," the group said.

Energy efficiency is one of the EU's three 20-20-20 targets for the decade, along with increasing the use of renewable energies to 20% of its overall energy mix and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20%. 

Unlike the other two goals, though, energy efficiency targets are not legally binding and in January, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso blamed this for the fact that it was the only goal not being met.

Commission documents forecast average energy savings of only around 10% by 2020, with the UK on track for 9% and even Germany only likely to hit 14%.

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