Industry warns of ‘fragmented’ Europe on energy efficiency

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As the European Commission awaits member states’ national implementation plans on the recently agreed Energy Efficiency Directive, industry players warn about the importance of creating consistent and uniform standards across Europe.

The Danish presidency might have felt relieved when the 27 member states agreed on the final text of the Energy Efficiency Directive on 14 June, amidst fears the bill could be either postponed until next year or completely withdrawn.

But the political wrangling that the directive has generated over the past year is far from being over. 

National governments are obliged under the directive to present implementation plans to the European Commission this autumn, and the European Parliament still has to give its final vote in September – although this is seen as just a formality at this point in the lawmaking process. 

The lobbying battle is picking up again after the summer break, with industry chiefs concerned about the fragmented approach countries could take in transposing the EU law into their national legislation.

The directive has been seen as a game-changer because it imposes an annual 1.5% reduction on the amount of energy utilities charge to their customers. Its compulsory measures are also expected to trigger a major revamp of the EU's existing building stock.

But the exact way in which the proposed measures will be implemented across the 27 member states is yet to be decided. There is no one-size-fits-all solution at EU level, because each country has its own energy policy. Also, countries such as Germany, Britain and Spain have systematically tried to water down the main provisions of the directive, as they already have their own energy-savings system in place.

“There will be a lot of struggle on what energy savings options they can go for,” said Brook Riley, who has followed the legislation for Friends of the Earth Europe, an NGO. "It's going to be a real lobby battle”.

The different ways in which the new directive could be interpreted is likely to tempt countries into recycling existing energy efficiency programmes and place them under the directive's umbrella, without taking new initiatives.

Britain could integrate the refurbishment of buildings under its planned Green Deal Scheme and Germany will most likely choose an existing and widely popular energy refurbishment programme for homes instead of annual energy savings for energy providers. The same could also happen in France, Austria, Sweden and Denmark.

Fear of inconsistency

This prompted industry chiefs to fear that a lack of consistency in standards, methodology and data generation across Europe could make European investors lose ground in the face of strong global competitors such as China or the United States.

One energy executive says the industry needs to speak with a single voice in the global debate. "That would certainly also help the entire concept of rolling out products which help the environment, but on the other hand also help us stay competitive,” Horst-Tore Land, chief of the ‘Ecomagination’ initiative of General Electric in Europe, the Middle-East and Africa, told EURACTIV in an interview

Different standards and different methodologies between member states can create too much variation across Europe and lead to a very fragmented approach, which harms European investors, Land said.

“As seen from an international perspective, it’s also important for Europe that we really stick to the concept of a common market. That we present ourselves as Europe in our global debates, and that we try to avoid as much as we can to have more country-specific measures being put in place in country-specific legislation,” he said.

Europe aims to reduce its primary energy use by 20% by 2020, a target which is not legally binding.

The Energy Efficiency Directive was proposed by the European Commission in mid-2011 as part of its effort to reach this objective. The European Parliament and Council, together with the Commission, reached a deal on the proposed directive in June 2012.

The directive:

  • Proposes individual measures for each of the sectors that could play a role in reducing energy consumption - apart from transport, which is voluntary. This includes a controversial obligation on energy companies to achieve 1.5% energy savings per year on their customer's bills.
  • Asks member states to develop long-term strategies for the energy-efficient refurbishment of Europe's building stock.
  • Obliges authorities to renovate public buildings, although this only applies to those "owned and occupied" by national governments, not regional or local authorities.
  • Sept. 2012: Vote in Parliament plenary.
  • 1 Jan. 2013: Ireland takes over the EU presidency from Cyprus.
  • 2014, 2016: European Commission reviews the Energy Efficiency Directive.

Business and Industry

  • Friends of the Earth Europe: Website

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