Green future can’t happen without consumers

Solar energy being generated on a rooftop. UK, March 2012. [Elliott Brown/Flickr]

Klaus-Dieter Borchardt, a top European Commission official, declared that Europe’s transition to a green future will be impossible without the support of consumers, but admitted that the executive had been terrible at communicating its work, during a debate held today (9 March).

Members of the panel discussed possible solutions to the problems the clean energy movement is facing in Europe.

This discussion took place almost two weeks after EU ministers backed the latest version of the Clean Energy for All package, which is part of the Energy Union plan.

EU's clean energy package gets national support

Negotiations for the third version of the Clean Energy for all Europeans package have officially begun.

The latest version of the package strives to make consumers central to the green transition. Members of the panel warned that it will be a struggle to convince consumers to change their lifetime habits.

One problem unanimously agreed on today is that more consumers need to get on board.

“We are going into a whole new world, we need to change communication because our whole energy system is changing,” Borchardt said.

Several members of the panel noted that energy efficiency simply isn’t “sexy” enough to get consumers involved.

“If it’s not sexy today, we need to make it sexy tomorrow,” the German Commission official responded.

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The European Commission’s Winter Package of Energy Union laws will be a turning point for clean energy, writes Maroš Šefčovič. But the spirit of the package goes further than clean energy or tackling climate change – it’s also about economic transformation, he argues.

According to Monique Goyens, director general at European Bureau of Consumers Unions (BEUC), consumers aren’t taking part in the transition because they don’t feel as if they have any power.

“People are not engaged, they are not involved because they don’t feel empowered— and they are not empowered,” Goyens said.

Theresa Griffin, a British MEP for the North West England region for the Labour Party, said 30 million people in Europe are living in “energy poverty,” meaning they can’t afford to heat or cool their homes.

The transition needs to be easy for consumers to understand, Goyens said.

She added that, at the end of the day, the drive for consumers to invest in things like smart meters or solar panels is the promise of more money in the future.

Another obstacle the revolution faces is persuading people to switch energy providers in order to save money.

“Do the consumers really like switching? I think not,” Lewis Shand Smith, chief of the National Energy Ombudsman Network, said.

Energy switching picking up in Belgium as clients desert Electrabel

Belgian green energy retailer Lampiris doubled its market share last year as customers deserted market leader Electrabel, highlighting the impact of government encouragement for switching.

“As a consumer, no matter how affluent I am, I need several rights,” Isabelle Buscke, head of the Brussels office of German consumers organisation Verbraucherzentrale  Bundesverband, said.

Several consumers said they feel that switching can often be confusing and time-consuming. The risk factor of losing more money than invested is also high.

Because the parameters of switching can be too complex to comprehend, confusion with bundling also becomes a problem.

Bundling is when one provider covers different types of services, such as internet, phone and cable. This can save customers money, but it can also create confusion for consumers about what they’re actually paying for and how much it all will cost.

Bundles are one of the big problems within customer service in the energy industry, several panel members said.

One testimony was heard about a man who received a contract about a bundle of energy for his home coupled with insurance. The benefits could only be received by people who were actively employed, but he was retired.

By the time he realised this, the company said he was stuck with it for one year.

“There’s quite a lack of information, and it’s hard to say what will happen in the energy market,” MEP Benedek Jávor concluded.

European companies criticise EU's lack of vision on renewables

As the European Commission publishes its long-awaited “Winter Package” of energy laws, European companies are speaking out on the need for binding national targets for renewable energies. EURACTIV France reports.

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