Sweden seeks to steer EU onto energy-efficient path


Sweden plans to step up Europe’s energy-efficiency legislation as it takes over the rotating six-month EU presidency at the beginning of July.

Sweden will be well-placed to push its vision on energy efficiency as it takes the EU helm in the midst of the revision of the EU’s energy efficiency action plan. The Commission launched a public consultation on 8 June and plans to present a new plan in November.

Sweden has themed its economic and environmental strategy as a “transition into an eco-efficient economy”.

Tapping into the EU’s large energy-savings potential forms an important part of the switch to a new economic model. Sweden is thus pledging to push ahead with energy-efficiency legislation even in the absence of a political agreement between EU ministers.

Forging a comprehensive action plan

According to Swedish government sources, the presidency will initiate discussions on the plan at the informal energy and environment ministers’ meeting in Sweden on 23-25 July. It hopes to present the Commission’s blueprint, if ready in November, at the December Energy Council. 

Swedish Deputy Prime Minister Maud Olofsson said her country would adopt a “systemic perspective” to the plan. The incoming presidency will look beyond energy-efficiency standards for individual appliances to the whole energy chain, from production to end use. 

“Things like CHP (combined heat and power; see EURACTIV LinksDossier) with highly-efficient district heating and well-insulated houses would make an efficient system as a whole,” a Swedish government official told EURACTIV. Sweden is home to the best insulated homes in Europe, and has a long tradition of district heating from renewable sources.

The action plan aims to achieve the EU’s goal of saving 20% more energy in 2020. But unlike the EU’s other 2020 targets (slashing greenhouse gas emissions by 20% and raising the share of renewables in the bloc’s energy mix to 20%), the energy-efficiency target is not binding.

Nevertheless, many are looking to the Swedish Presidency to push for legal commitments. In its consultation document for the recast of the energy efficiency action plan, the Commission opened a debate on the issue, saying that binding energy efficiency targets could be considered as part of the mid-term revision. 

Early agreement on key legislation in sight

Sweden plans to reach an agreement with the Parliament before the year’s end on key energy-efficiency proposals mapped out in the Commission’s Second Strategic Energy Review in November 2008, and wants to move even without a common position in the Council. 

“Our aim is to reach agreement before the common position, as we did with the Renewables Directive,” a Swedish government official told EURACTIV. She said the presidency would engage in talks with MEPs in October and November, with the aim of reaching an agreement before a meeting of energy ministers on 7 December.

The Parliament has adopted first-reading positions on recasting the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD), extending energy labelling to cover all energy-related products, and labelling tyres. But member states have expressed doubt about some of the MEPs’ amendments (EURACTIV 15/06/09).

The incoming presidency is set for hard bargaining on the buildings directive. MEPs’ call for all new buildings to produce at least as much energy on site as they use by 2019 is viewed as unrealistic by member states, which are worried that the directive will prove expensive and administratively burdensome to implement.

The Swedish official said the Council talks had so far barely even touched on the issue of zero-energy buildings. “There is no position emerging,” she stated.

Sweden will also have to unravel a political impasse on the energy labelling of appliances so that the Commission can go ahead and adopt new labels. The Parliament effectively blocked the process in May when it refused to endorse a new open-ended energy label for televisions (EURACTIV 07/05/09).

Member states are still divided between the Parliament’s position that the energy label should remain within the closed A-G scale, and the Commission’s proposal to add new ‘A’ categories to avoid upgrading the thresholds for different classes.

Environmental and consumer organisations have sided with the Parliament on the issue, and are now looking to the Swedish Presidency to break the deadlock.

Ambitious national climate agenda

Sweden set itself an ambitious national agenda when it presented its “integrated climate and energy policy” in March. The government pledged to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 40% in sectors that do not participate in the EU emissions trading scheme (EU ETS; see EURACTIV LinksDossier) by 2020, with the aim of becoming completely carbon neutral by mid-century.

To become 20% more energy-efficient by 2020 in line with the non-binding EU target, the Swedish government said it would invest around €27.3 million annually between 2010 and 2020 in implementing energy-efficiency measures. 

Priority is given to initiatives that better inform households and businesses of opportunities to save both money and energy. Among other things, the government plans to introduce requirements for electricity and hot water metering in new and renovated buildings, and boost investment in technology in order to facilitate the introduction to the market of energy-efficient technologies.

Swedish Environment Minister Andreas Carlgren argued that Sweden is the first industrial country to present a clear plan, via with its climate bill, to become independent of fossil energy and reduce emissions "to the levels climate measures require". "With climate targets at the absolute forefront and a clear path towards fossil-fuel independence, as the EU presidency country we can continue to take the lead for a climate agreement in Copenhagen," he said.

Domestic appliances manufacturers welcomed the Swedish Presidency's agenda. "We are pleased to hear that the Swedish Presidency is setting energy efficiency as a priority on its agenda, because we are running out of time to achieve a 20% increase in energy efficiency by 2020," said CECED  (European Committee of Domestic Equipment ManufacturersDirector-General Luigi Meli.

CECED urged the Swedish Presidency to deliver a clear focus on the diffusion of super-efficient products in households in the Energy Savings Action Plan.

"Targeted incentives can encourage the uptake of the top energy-efficient technology. Early and better appliance replacement is environmentally and socially justified, because it will reward those who achieve above standard results in manufacturing and those who use the top energy-efficient products," Meli said. 

Environmentalists are calling on the incoming presidency to work on making the EU's target to become 20% more energy-efficient by 2020 legally binding.

"Energy efficiency is the environment measure which has been most neglected, and it needs to be lifted much higher up the political agenda. We expect the Swedish Presidency to do this by preparing the ground for the EU to adopt a binding target on reducing energy waste by at least 20% by 2020," said Esther Bollendorff, a climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe.

She urged the presidency to ensure a coherent policy package, with minimum requirements for products, clear energy labels, investment programmes and public procurement rules.

WWF also stressed how essential it is that the Swedish Presidency ensures a binding 20% energy-saving target by 2020 through the new Energy Efficiency Action Plans.

"Within this framework, a strong directive on energy performance of buildings alone could result in a decrease of 11% of the EU energy consumption," said Mariangiola Fabbri, energy policy officer at WWF. 

On the issue of energy labelling, green groups are urging the Swedish Presidency to solve the deadlock in favour of a closed A-G scheme. 

"The second half of 2009 will also have to see an agreement on the EU Energy Label, with the A-G scheme applied to a wide range of new products such as TVs. Energy conservation can only be beneficial to the economy and the environment," said Fabbri.

Friends of the Earth argued that consumer surveys clearly show that consumers prefer the current A-G energy scale. "This should not be modified simply to make manufacturers look better," it said.

CECED also stressed that bringing forward the eco-design and energy label measures would be important, as the standstill after the Parliament's vote on new energy labels for televisions "sends a confusing signal for developing investments in energy". "Every additional month spent talking about how to achieve this goal is a month less to actually implement actions to accomplish the 2020 energy-efficiency goal," Meli said.

Cogen Europe, the umbrella organisation of business actors involved in cogeneration, urged the Swedish Presidency to pay particular attention on two items in the energy efficiency action plan.

First, Cogen would like to see the 2020 energy-efficiency target become binding. "A mandatory target for energy savings based on primary fuel use reduction supports both the CO2 reduction and the renewables target, making both more likely to be achieved," it said. Efficiency implies using existing primary fuel more efficiently and lowering the renewable capacity required to achieve the target, which is a percentage of total primary fuel use, it explained. 

Second, Cogen called for a new regulatory framework to support cogeneration and a requirement for transmission system operators (TSOs) and distribution system operators (DSOs) to factor in distributed generation to their network plans over the next 20 years. "Doubling cogeneration by 2020 would bring down CO2 emissions by at least a further 50 Mt CO2 per annum, save around 25 Mtoe, help achieve the renewable target and support the cogeneration industry in Europe," it argued.

The European Commission opened a wide-ranging debate in June 2005 with its Green Paper on Energy Efficiency. The paper argued the EU could save at least 20% of its present energy consumption by 2020 while reducing Europe's dependence on oil and gas imports and slashing greenhouse gases (see EURACTIV LinksDossier on 'Energy Efficiency: The EU's action plan').

EU member states endorsed the Commission's proposals at their March 2006 summit, and urged the EU executive to follow-up with an action plan that is at the same time ambitious and realistic.

In October 2006, the Commission presented an Action Plan for Energy Efficiency, which comprised 75 measures in ten priority areas. These included energy performance standards for energy-using products such as boilers, copiers and lighting (see EURACTIV LinksDossier on 'Eco-design'), new energy standards for buildings (see EURACTIV LinksDossier on 'Green buildings') and legislation to limit CO2 emissions from cars (see EURACTIV LinksDossier on 'Cars & CO2').

A mid-term revision of the action plan was scheduled for 2009. Acknowledging that the EU was falling short on energy savings, the Commission launched a public consultation on 8 June 2009 - and running until 3 August - in order to present an improved plan in November.

  • Nov. 2009: Commission to present the revised Energy Saving Action Plan.
  • 23 July: Informal meeting of energy ministers.
  • 24-25 July: Informal meeting of environment ministers.
  • 7 Dec.: Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council. 

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