Where is the consumer in the Energy Efficiency Directive?

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

This article is part of our special report Products for a greener planet.

Consumers will not be able to cut their energy consumption unless the energy efficiency directive creates a framework for smart meter feedback, accurate bills and information campaigns, argues Monique Goyens, Director General of The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC). 

BEUC comprises organisations from 31 European countries (EU, EEA and applicant countries). It acts as the umbrella group in Brussels for 42 independent, national consumer organisations from 31 countries and defends the interests of all Europe’s consumers.

"For almost 12 months, discussions on the Energy Efficiency Directive have spawned dozens of reports, articles and studies about savings targets, economic benefits and effects on employment. Each of these – especially the opportunity to effectively tackle climate change – are important goals to fight for.

But let’s not forget one key element: When it comes to increasing our energy efficiency, the first question we need to ask ourselves is what needs to be done to help consumers save energy? BEUC believes this question hasn’t received enough attention lately. Let me raise 5 pivotal issues for consumers:

1) Feedback by smart meter: For consumers, the main benefit of smart meters is to receive intelligent feedback about our energy use. This should help us to better manage our energy expenditure and save energy.

What information do consumers need then to change their habits? Smart meters should provide real time information on actual energy consumption, at no additional cost and in a format people can easily understand.

For that, consumers need a tool (e.g. in-home display) where they can easily access this information. One key element which always should be taken into account is that consumers react best to information given in monetary terms which means answering the question how much do I have to pay?

2) Sustainable smart meters: This directive will bring Europe’s consumers a step closer to smart meters. But this investment needs to be future-proof. A smart meter installed in 2012 should be able to communicate with a consumer’s washing machine new in 2015 or with his latest energy provider when he switches in 2016.

It is therefore important that this directive sets minimum interoperability and compatibility requirements for smart meters and related devices used within the household.

3) Switching: With energy prices skyrocketing across Europe, the Energy Efficiency Directive has the potential to boost consumers’ switching ability and help them stand up against unfair price increases.

BEUC member studies show that a household of average consumption can save several hundred euro on its annual gas and electricity bill by switching provider.

Only when consumers receive accurate and clear information about their energy use can they shop around for a better deal and cut their energy bill. This directive can be a step in the right direction by obliging energy suppliers to provide this essential consumer data on every bill and give access to up-to-date data on energy use.

4) Accurate bills: The very minimum when smart meters are installed is to have accurate bills on a monthly basis. There is no justification for setting the minimum frequency of accurate bills as annually. This would only be acceptable to households without smart meters.

5) Consumer campaigns: The European Parliament’s proposal to introduce a new article on consumer information and empowerment (article 8a) acknowledges the need for additional assistance to consumers to reduce their energy consumption.The directive should oblige Member States to put in place co-ordinated national programmes effectively explaining how energy efficiency measures can work.

In February, the Parliament’s Industry, Research and Energy committee took many consumer expectations into account when voting on this directive proposal. As the Danish Presidency comes to an end, intense efforts are being made to reach a last minute deal.

From a consumer point of view, only when energy users’ needs are taken into account is there a chance to end up with a future-proof, consumer-friendly Energy Efficiency Directive."

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