IEA finds energy efficiency is fuel for economic growth

Windpark in the North Sea. Egmond aan Zee, Netherlands [Nuon/Flickr]

Windpark in the North Sea. Egmond aan Zee, Netherlands. [Nuon/Flickr]

The EU does not do enough to conserve energy, endangering security of supply and the global climate, says a new study conducted by the International Energy Agency (IEA), citing enormous growth potential in energy efficiency. EURACTIV Germany reports.

“Under existing policies, two-thirds of economically viable energy efficiency potential available between now and 2035 will remain unrealised,“ Maria van der Hoeven, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency (IEA) told

“That also applies to the EU,” van der Hoeven pointed out, “They could do so much more. They underestimate the value of energy efficiency.“

Often, energy efficiency is only on the periphery of the debate over climate protection, which instead focuses on issues like CO2 reduction, increasing renewable sources and decreasing fossil fuel consumption. When efficiency is discussed, many countries hesitate to adequately invest in energy-saving measures.

But according to an IEA study released on Tuesday (9 September), energy efficiency has long ceased to be a “hidden fuel” that only relates to energy saving among consumers.

On the contrary, energy efficiency leads to macro-economic growth, long-term climate protection and greater energy security, the authors argue.

The IEA study provides reliable numbers to back up this argument for the first time.

“We finally have concrete data on energy efficiency,” the IEA director indicated. “Leading politicians get data that they can work with”, said van der Hoeven, who served as Minister of Economic Affairs in the Netherlands until 2010.


If EU countries were to fully exploit the potential of energy efficiency, GDP would grow by up to 1.1%, the study’s authors claim.

But if current efforts by the member states continue within the framework of the Energy Efficiency Directive, this growth will only be 0.25%.

“We are moving away from the traditional view that economic reforms are always linked to increased energy consumption,” said van der Hoeven.

The national budget would also benefit by saving on expenditures for power generation and energy imports, the study shows. Greater investment for energy efficiency goods and services would also be beneficial.

If the EU were to spend an annual €56 billion on renovations for public buildings until 2020, it would create approximately 760,000 new jobs.

Meanwhile, money invested by the governments could be completely recovered, the authors write, in light of rising energy costs and lower health-related spending.

According to the study, the industrial sector would be among the most significant beneficiaries of such savings measures.

“Companies will be able to improve their work processes, will become more productive and more competitive. They will not only save energy but can also experience strategic growth,” van der Hoeven said.

The EU has set a target to consume 20% less energy by the year 2020. In line with the Commission’s plans, member states are supposed to reach 30% energy savings by 2030.

>>Read: EU member states not reaching 2020 energy efficiency goals, Commission says

But for the time being, many countries are lagging in their implementation of the 2020 Directive. In July, EU Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger initiated infringement proceedings with 24 EU member states, including Germany. Concrete fines have not been imposed yet.

“In order to realise the efficiency targets,” van der Hoeven explained, “there needs to be a coordinated mechanism at the EU-level enabling all countries to deliver.”


Europe aims to reduce its primary energy use by 20% by 2020, a target which is not legally binding.

The Energy Efficiency Directive was proposed by the European Commission in mid-2011 as part of its effort to reach this objective. To do this, the EU will need to more than double its energy savings efforts, according to Commission estimates.

In its draft energy efficiency directive, the Commission proposed individual measures for each of the sectors that could play a role in reducing energy consumption, including an obligation on energy companies to reduce their deliveries to customers by 1.5% each year, that has proved complex and in many quarters controversial.

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