Isolate Putin. Insulate homes.

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Ciaran CUFFE in the EP in Strasbourg [Fred Marvaux / European Union 2020 - Source : EP]

As part of the plan to break away from Russian fossil fuels, due to be tabled on Wednesday (18 May), Europe needs new action on energy efficiency, energy savings and the renovation wave writes Ciarán Cuffe.

Ciarán Cuffe is a Green lawmaker from Ireland and is leading the European Parliament negotiations on revising the energy performance of buildings directive.

Putin’s war against Ukraine is causing death, hardship and destruction. It has also exposed Europe’s dependence on Russian oil and gas imports and fossil fuels more generally.

This week, the European Commission will present its strategy to tackle this with the REPowerEU plan, which aims to make the EU completely independent from Russian fossil fuels by 2027.

However, it overlooks the potential of one crucial power play – energy efficiency. Europe can isolate Putin, by insulating our homes.

As it stands, the REPowerEU plan will set out how to adapt our economies and energy use to life without Russian oil and gas. The plan is the result of repeated demands from the European Parliament and EU leaders.

It will include short-term actions such as direct income support for households in energy poverty, some energy efficiency measures, more capacities for renewable energy production and the installation of 10 million heat pumps.

The reality of the impact of our dependence, however, has demonstrated the need for more ambitious and far-reaching measures.

In the EU, buildings are responsible for 40% of our energy consumption, and skyrocketing prices have substantially increased the number of households in energy poverty.

It is time to accelerate our transition towards a highly energy-efficient and fully renewable-based economy to reduce energy costs and the consumption of fossil fuels.

Increased energy efficiency and saving measures, and rising renewable energy capacities will be critical tools in this process.

They will allow households to reduce their energy bills and, with that, their vulnerability to fossil fuel prices will also decrease. We will also see gains in EU energy sovereignty, energy security, and come closer to meeting our climate targets.

National and local authorities can also contribute to this transition at the member state level in a number of ways.

They can increase renewable energy capacities by providing space for renewable energy installations on public premises. They can tackle energy poverty with dedicated funding programmes, inclusive district renovation programmes, and through affordable and decent social housing.

These programmes create local jobs in the renovation sectors and empower broader society to play their part to help overcome this crisis.

At the EU level, energy efficiency and savings must be afforded a much bigger role in our plan to be fully independent from Russian fossil fuels.

The Fit for 55 and REPowerEU packages promise ambitious and concrete actions on energy efficiency and bringing renewable energies into and closer to our homes. In the reality of the current crisis, we can and must deliver on this potential.

The revision of the Fit for 55 package’s energy performance of buildings directive (EPBD), is an opportunity to directly implement elements of the REPowerEU plan in legislation.

Two prime candidates are the plan’s EU solar energy strategy and the EU Save plan, which promotes energy savings.

First, however, we need revised energy efficiency targets and regulatory measures in EU legislation. These will ensure the EPBD is updated in line with the new geopolitical context and effectively address other challenges, such as high fossil energy prices.

Increasing the EU’s energy efficiency targets makes sense both politically and financially. It would allow us to regain energy sovereignty more quickly, and speed up the installation of renewables and building renovations in a cost-efficient manner.

In time, this would boost the energy performance of our building stock across Europe. The energy saving potential through renovations is staggering. Different studies suggest that 25% or even 45% of EU’s current fossil gas imports from Russia could be saved with ambitious renovation policies in the medium to long term.

These measures must also be included in the REPowerEU plan as a critical tool in reducing our dependence on Russian oil and gas. The plan should also include:

  • A mandatory and more ambitious EU energy efficiency target, as spelt out in a revised legislative proposal of the energy efficiency directive
  • Financial support for energy efficiency and saving measures, including renovations, and targeted financial support for households living in energy poverty.
  • EU-wide minimum energy performance standards for buildings, including strong social safeguards for vulnerable households.
  • Immediate phase-out of subsidies for fossil-fuel boilers that lock households into expensive and dirty technologies.
  • Making new buildings emission-free as soon as possible, including through renewable energy use mandates.

Injecting ambition into the EPBD revision will reduce energy demand in Europe, meaning lower bills for citizens and less dependence on Russia as it wages war.

Through the EPBD, we can also solidify the REPowerEU actions so they have a real effect on citizens that are at risk of energy poverty through rising energy prices. We can and must do more to insulate our homes, and isolate Putin.

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