EU countries see energy savings as a "luxury", neglect building sector roadmaps, and are producing national action plans unlikely to meet a 2020 energy efficiency target, according to government officials and advisers surveyed by EURACTIV.
The bloc’s 28 states have a raft of obligations, ranging from ecodesign measures to public building renovation targets, intended to cut projected energy use 20% by the decade’s end, and so lower greenhouse gas emissions.
But experts say that routine declarations from heads of state about the crucial role that energy savings must play are frequently not translated into practical action.
One French ministry official told EURACTIV that a long-term building renovation strategy document that was supposed to be sent to the European Commission by April “is not currently in process”.
A select administrative team was dealing with the issue in isolation from stakeholders, he said, despite a requirement under Article 4 of the 2012 Energy Efficiency Directive (EED) mandating consultations across the whole business chain, and with consumers.
“It is a very big problem because this document is supposed to give the whole building sector a long-term perspective which is essential for them and the opportunity is being missed,” he said.
Some 45% of Europe’s total CO2 emissions come from inefficiencies in buildings’ heating and cooling systems, but ministerial cabinet staff were disinterested in the issue, according to the official.
“They consider the directive to be an unimportant obligation," he said. "They are used to sending documents to the Commission that no-one looks at, and they feel that this long-term strategy is just an administrative document with no political consequences.”
A 2030 efficiency goal would be a “good push for everybody”, he said: “We have some ambitious targets on energy efficiency in buildings, but nothing is current or properly organised because everyone is waiting to see what milestones there will be in the future.”
‘Hoodwinking the Commission’
Industry sources say that several other member states are not implementing efficiency regulations in a timely manner. “They are hoping that an approach which they know is wrong will nevertheless hoodwink the commission,” one told EURACTIV.
“Spain is a culprit here, wanting to use revenues raised from energy savings obligations in the EED’s Article 7 to fund the renovation of public buildings under Article 5,” he went on. “I think it is a bit cheeky.”
In Britain yesterday (5 March), a raft of measures to improve uptake of the country’s Green Deal were announced, including an extra £450 million of energy efficiency grants, and improved advice for consumers.
The time to get a new provider on board will be cut from three months to three weeks, due diligence requirements for approving builders’ documentation will fall from a month to a week, and waiting times would be slashed for enthusiastic customers.
“There have been some successes and some not-so-successful aspects of the Green Deal,” the energy secretary Ed Davey told EURACTIV on 4 March, adding that an announcement would be made later this week on how to take it “to the next level”.
More than 100,000 people signed up for an initial assessment under the deal, but just 458 households finished substantive improvements requiring a loan to be taken out.
Davey said that improvements would also be announced to the UK’s energy company obligations this week, and that pilot market incentive schemes would be launched for the capacity market this summer.
Ed Davey ‘passionate’ about energy efficiency
“There is this myth that goes around that we are not doing anything about energy efficiency, whereas in fact we are doing huge amounts,” he said. “It is something I feel passionately about because it is the lowest cost and creates lots of jobs.”
However, a passage in the UK’s impact assessment on 2030 energy and climate targets opposes a 30% efficiency goal as it “raises total cost substantially … because it drives additional energy savings beyond those required to meet the 40% GHG target alone.”
One erstwhile adviser to Davey’s ministry, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc), told EURACTIV that poor inter-departmental coordination, and lop-sided power distribution within Whitehall had damaged energy saving prospects.
“At high levels there is as commitment to energy efficiency, but actually implementing it with the structures that are in place is difficult,” said Steven Fawkes. “Decc has little power in government as a whole, the Treasury clearly has the most power and they could do more work on the value of the energy security argument, and the wider benefits of energy efficiency.”
The UK Treasury is reputed to take a narrow and ideological approach to energy efficiency, measuring investments off against unrealistic short-term results, and focusing on the supply-side of the energy debate.
Partly as a result, Fawkes believes that renovation targets under the EED are likely to fall through departmental cracks, and that costly energy utility survey schemes in situ are unlikely to lead to any action.
Five priority actions
In 2011, he proposed five priority efficiency actions to the Decc minister Greg Barker: setting energy intensity targets; establishing an energy efficiency office; launching energy efficiency feed-in tariffs; setting an energy reduction target for government estate of 25% by 2015, and ensuring a demand-side focus in electricity market reform.
But no energy intensity target or feed-in tariff has yet materialised, and the government is unlikely to meet its estate goal as “the bottom line is that you have to bring in capital from the Treasury or from external sources, and they haven’t done that,” Fawkes said.
A forthcoming National Energy Efficiency Action Plan “probably won’t be enough” to meet the UK’s 2020 obligations, he added.
“Energy efficiency is not a left-right political debate so much as a fact of unanimity,” the French ministry official commented, “but it is considered inessential, as a kind of a luxury. It is ok but only after everything else.”