UK’s top energy efficiency ranking thrown into doubt

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A ranking of the UK as the world's most energy-efficient country by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) was “over-generous”and contradicted official EU statistics, Brussels experts have told EURACTIV.

Green groups were “puzzled” when Britain claimed gold when ACEEE released its energy efficiency table for the world's 12 largest economies on 12 July.

But the shock may have been greater in the offices of Eurostat, the European statistical agency.

The ACEEE report gave the United Kingdom four out of four possible points for the efficiency of thermal power plants, while France scored one.

This contradicts Eurostat’s 2011 report (based on 2009 data) that rates the UK's thermal efficiency of power stations at just 44.4%, compared to 56% for France, marking the continuation of a relatively poor energy-saving trend in the UK dating from the 2005-2009 period.

Overall, ACEEE gave the UK 67 out of a possible 100 efficiency points. Germany came second, with 66 points, followed by Italy with 63 points, Japan with 62 and France with 60.

Russia was at the bottom (36 points), while China scored as many points as the EU average (56). The United States, meanwhile "disappointed" the researchers of this study, achieving only 47 points.

ACEEE rejected suggestions that the ranking was inaccurate, telling EURACTIV that it was designed to avoid favouring one country over another and that "we did not know the outcome of the rankings before we began".

"Frankly, many of us were surprised by the results," said Sara Hayes, senior policy and utilities associate at ACEEE.

'Confusing' measurement of energy efficiency

ACEEE researchers were not the only ones to be surprised. In fact, the findings were surprising to all Brussels energy efficiency experts contacted by EURACTIV.

“Why is the UK so much better than France?” said Brook Riley of Friends of the Earth Europe.

Green groups argue that the ACEEE ranking lacks clarity and accuracy and claimed the measurement system was "confusing". It only looked at 12 countries – four of which were in Europe – and counted the rest of the EU as a fifth country. The remaining seven nations included in the study were the US, Canada, Brazil, Australia, Japan, Russia, and China.

“In that context, it shouldn’t be surprising that the four separate European countries reviewed were in the top 5,” along with Japan, said Samuel Flückiger of the European Climate Foundation. “Would they have included countries like Denmark or Sweden, they would definitely have outperformed" the UK, he told EURACTIV.

The European Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ECEEE) agreed. “The UK may very well be the most energy efficient country in their ranking, but this does not mean it is the most energy-efficient country in Europe,” said Nils Borg, the organisation’s executive director.

“I would easily put Denmark higher, but they don't appear to be included at all.”

Different categories

In fact, the ACEEE study used different categories to grade the 12 countries, including national efforts, buildings, industry and transportation.

These were then crunched into six to seven different sub-categories, such as energy productivity intensity, efficiency of thermal plants, industrial electricity generated by CHP (combined heat and power), and efficiency of residential buildings or of commercial buildings.

The UK's top mark is attributed to the emphasis that the ACEEE’s ratings put on industrial efficiency and cogeneration in which both heat and electricity are produced. But a July 2012 study published by the UK's Department for Energy and Climate Change shows that the country's policies on energy efficiency will only tap one-third of potential energy savings available by 2030.

Britain also benefited from the ACEEE’s tilt towards services rather than industrial manufacturing as an efficiency measure, giving it relatively low energy intensity, Erica Hope, of Climate Action Network Europe (CAN-E) said.

“A close look at the scores reveals that the UK measures up very badly on certain areas like residential buildings and public transport use,” Hope said.

And other elements of the ACEEE report appear questionable. “A puzzling thing I notice is that UK gets full marks for 'mandatory energy savings goals' whereas it was one of the only two EU countries that until now refused to indicate an energy-savings target in its National Reform Programmes. So unless ACEEE counts carbon targets as energy savings targets, I don't know where this comes from,” Ballu said.

A question of influence

Those familiar with the energy efficiency debate in Brussels believe the ACEEE report was intended for other purposes.

Riley, of Friends of the Earth Europe, said the report was trying to influence American policymakers towards adopting energy-efficient policies.

A well-ranked UK is more likely to influence American decision-makers than a well-ranked China, he argued. “You try to compare it to a country easier to relate to [and] it has the same language, similar foreign policy views and banking systems.”

Monica Frassoni, president of the European Alliance to Save Energy (EU-ASE), agreed that it was a “strong advocacy tool” for US lobbying.

ACEEE does not dispute this. "We absolutely have an interest in identifying where the US could improve its energy efficiency and we hope that the results of our research will highlight for policymakers, businesses, and consumers where energy efficiency can be improved," Hayes said.

ACEEE may even become involved in drafting the legislation it is pushing for. The group works with state and local officials to develop energy-efficiency strategies and in influencing federal policy.

ACEEE is funded by government agencies, corporations, private companies, foundations and many power utilities. Some of these companies – such as Johnson Controls, the utilities and Schneider Electric – sell energy efficiency services and complain about a lack of political signals.


Ironically, the UK is seen by many members of the European Parliament as one of the worst enemies of the EU's first energy savings law, the Energy Efficiency Directive, playing a double role behind the curtains.

Green MEP Claude Turmes told EURACTIV that Britain weakened the directive, article by article, asking for reduced ambitions in exchange for London's cooperation on the bill. Turmes, the Parliament’s rapporteur on the legislation, said that the UK even convinced other member states to oppose the bill and ask for exemptions.

“The [UK government’s] Green Deal is more and more a smokescreen," Turmes said. "The ‘greenest government–ever’ is an impostor, they have no money and no ambition behind words.”

"The study is mostly for US consumption and not the least to show that their ancestors in UK, Italy and Germany (who are also their competitors in G8) are doing better," said Hans Nilsson, of the European Council for an Energy Efficient Economy.

Erica Hope, of Climate Action Network Europe, said: “It's true that the UK has done more on efficiency than some countries, but it should definitely not let this ranking go to its head. It has benefited in this scoring from features like its heavy bias towards services rather than manufacturing in the economy, which give it a relatively low energy intensity - and a close look at the scores reveals that the UK measures up very badly on certain areas like residential buildings and public transport use.”

“The objective of the report is to put pressure on the US government by comparing it to the progress in other countries. If they would like to compare against regions with similar size GDP then it is better to compare the US [$14.6 trillion] to the EU [$16.2 trillion] rather than to UK [$2.3 trillion]. There is far more diversity and complexity in policy adoption, regulatory structure and climate at the EU level, which in many ways makes it more similar to the US than just comparing the US to the UK or Germany alone,” said Samuel Flückiger of the European Climate Foundation.

"The ACEEE Scorecard is a challenging task. The results must be analysed in the right perspective. For example, the scorecard covers only the 12 biggest world economies; therefore a European energy-efficiency champion like Denmark is not included in the ranking," said Monica Frassoni, president of the European Alliance to Save Energy (EU-ASE).

"The UK, Germany and Italy respectively #1, #2, #3 in the scorecard is good news in the global contest; however, the EU still has a long way ahead to reach the EU’s 20% energy savings target for 2020. The Energy Efficiency Directive has the potential to bring Europe to some 14.9% savings by 2020, but the remaining 5% has to be delivered by additional measures. A comprehensive legislative framework is essential to provide strategic certainty and create an energy efficient market where European companies can invest, prosper, create jobs and retain their technological leadership," Frassoni added.

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. The European Parliament and Council, together with the Commission, have reached a deal on the proposed directive in June 2012. However, the final form of the directive would not achieve the 20% energy savings, even if it would come close to that target, at around 15-17%. 

The directive proposes individual measures for each of the sectors that could play a role in reducing energy consumption - apart from transport, which is voluntary -, including a controversial obligation on energy companies to achieve 1,5% energy savings per year from their previous year's total energy consumption. It also asks member states to have long-term strategies for the energy-efficient refurbishment of Europe's building stock. The directive also introduces the refurbishment of owned and occupied central government buildings. Finally, the law is seen as an important step in the future roll-out of smart meters and other energy-efficiency products and services.

  • Autumn 2012: EU countries to officially finalise deal on the Energy Efficiency Directive


  • Energy, transport and environment indicators: 2011 Report

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  • Coalition for Energy Savings: Website
  • Friends of the Earth Europe: Website
  • European Climate Foundation: Website
  • Climate Action Network Europe: Website
  • European Alliance to Save Energy (EU-ASE): Website


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