As the EU struggles to meet its target of reducing energy consumption by 20% by 2020, energy efficiency grants from a reallocated fund worth eight billion euros are still going unclaimed, according to a top European Commission official who spoke to EURACTIV in an interview.
Marie Donnelly, director at the European Commission's DG Energy, says there are eight billion euros still up for grabs to help cities slash energy consumption.
"The recent change in regulation provides for up to 4% of the Cohesion Fund to be invested in energy efficiency for residential buildings," she told EURACTIV in an interview.
"Eight billion euros is available for this. It is not being used as quickly as we would like to see, for many reasons."
EURACTIV understands that as of 21 December, only 205 million euros of the facility had been reallocated against earlier budgeting provisions and claimed by EU member states.
From next January, Donnelly's office will be holding meetings with European energy agencies and national managing authorities to look at ways of changing their operational programmes.
"Our calculations indicate that we are unlikely to achieve a 20% reduction on the current set of policies," she told EURACTIV. "It is a challenging target, not least because it means we have to 'decouple' economic growth from increasing consumption of energy."
So far, she estimates that the EU has achieved energy consumption reductions of "somewhere between nine and 11%".
The key challenges facing policymakers, she says, are how to reconcile the different levels of efficiency applied to different industries, and how to develop a European market in energy-efficiency companies (ESCOs) which could increase public sector and industrial savings from energy efficiency, particularly in large buildings.
An Energy Efficiency Action Plan in 2011 will also target the area of energy and buildings, in particular raising awareness about the ESCO market. "It has been very successful where it is known but it is not known in all member states, so we need to encourage its development," Donnelly said.
One consequence of the current recession has been a slowing in the pace of renovations of urban buildings. "It will be difficult to kick-start it again," Donnelly admitted. "The kinds of measures that can be introduced at European level for individual owner-occupied homes may be less effective than those that member states themselves can operate."
"We have a new financial mechanism coming on-stream. As a result of the recovery package there will be about €146 million available for the renovation of buildings," she added.
Another cause of concern for some environmentalists has been the scaling down of support for renewable energies from countries such as France and Spain. But in this area, Donnelly expressed optimism that the EU would hit its target of sourcing 20% of it energy needs from renewables by the end of the decade.
"Biomass has made a huge contribution to the target, followed by wind, solar and hydro," she said. "As the cost of the new technologies – particularly wind and solar – comes down and efficiency goes up, the capacity for the technology to supply energy into the grid at grid parity (the point at which alternative means of generating electricity become equal to – or cheaper than – grid power) becomes closer."
There were no plans for any further legislative initiatives on renewables, she affirmed.