“The future ahead of us is a transition towards a climate neutral economy. Yesterday, the European Council missed the opportunity to sign off an EU climate neutrality commitment by 2050 despite a large majority of 24 Member States now backing net-zero emissions by 2050. We should build on this group of progressive countries and convince the remaining Member States that the transition is the best economic choice for Europe, whereas the cost of inaction would be unbearably high. Moving forward, we must link the climate neutrality commitment more closely to the EU budget discussion, so that we prioritize investments in energy efficiency to halve the demand of energy in the EU by 2050, and move towards 100% renewable energy generation. The EU budget is the most suitable collective tool to make this long-term transformation happen. In a just and ordered transition that leaves no-one behind in the shift to a zero-emission society, EU public resources will attract the necessary private investments to make the European economy more innovative and competitive.”
Monica Frassoni, President, European Alliance to Save Energy (EU-ASE)
By Monica Frassoni, President, European Alliance to Save Energy
Our focus on measuring GDP growth has trapped us in a linear view of society. Long term quality of life needs to become the most important measure of global success. With greenhouse-gas emissions increasingly a constraint on current and future improvements in prosperity, we need to become much smarter and more resource efficient.
An energy efficient Europe will foster competitiveness and growth through innovation but also large scale implementation of existing technologies in a range of sectors, each of these contributing to the prosperity, health and wellbeing of Europe’s citizens.
Energy efficiency improvements across all sectors are key to arriving at a climate neutral world by 2050.
The last decade saw an unprecedented increase in awareness of the multiple benefits of energy efficiency. As a result of this, in November 2016 the European Commission proposed making energy efficiency central to a package of legislation known as Clean Energy for All Europeans. Between 2018 and 2019, several pieces of legislation aiming at improving energy efficiency were adopted: the Energy Efficiency Directive (EED), the Governance of the Energy Union Regulation, the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) and the Internal Market for Electricity Directive and Regulation.
Over the next few years national governments, the Commission, local authorities, businesses, civil society and other stakeholders will have to work together to fully implement these new laws.
The many benefits of energy efficiency in a climate neutral world
Energy savings are not only crucial for the transition to a decarbonised economy. They also offer many long-term benefits to offset costs associated with efficiency improvement. Investing in energy efficiency simply makes economic sense.
On average, every €1 invested in energy efficiency saves €3, over the lifespan of a technology. This means that energy efficiency is the most cost-effective way to tackle climate change.
The multiple benefits of energy efficiency include economic growth, increased competitiveness, job creation, healthier population and ecosystems, clean air and water, alleviation of energy poverty, and energy security. These benefits, combined with an increased use of renewables, simultaneously address the major societal, economic and environmental challenges facing the EU today.
Energy efficiency and the 1.5°C goal
Climate change is defining our era. If we do not take bold action, we risk missing the time where we can avoid the disastrous consequences of climate change, for people and for the natural systems that support us all. We are at a defining moment.
Energy efficiency is key to achieving the goals set out in the Paris Agreement on climate change and related greenhouse-gas emission reductions. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), 76% of the European greenhouse gas emission reductions required to keep temperature increases below 1.5°C must come from energy efficiency.
In other words, without implementing bold energy efficiency policies, it will be impossible to reach Europe’s international commitments, maintain Europe’s global climate leadership, and prove the business case for climate change mitigation.
In its Communication “A European strategic long-term vision for a prosperous, modern, competitive and climate neutral economy”, the European Commission said that energy efficiency measures should play a central role in reaching net zero GHG emissions by 2050, reducing energy consumption by as much as half compared to 2005. In order to do so, Energy Efficiency First has to be used across a fast-changing energy system, as the best way to decarbonise our economies.
Europe’s energy landscape is indeed going through profound changes. These are, driven by digitalisation, an increasing share of renewable energy, distributed generation, citizens’ engagement (the creation of ‘prosumers’), electrification, storage, and market integration on both national and European level.
During the next political cycle we have to build a broad alliance of progressive forces, working together to decarbonise society in the interest of citizens and the economy. We have to embrace the digital revolution to deliver energy at the right time, in the right place and at the lowest cost. This will enable consumers to optimise and monetise their energy resources on a peer-to-peer marketplace. We have to unlock the potential for energy savings and carbon-footprint reduction that lies in the EU buildings stock.
We have to promote energy efficiency and renewables working together to provide over 90% of the energy related CO2 emission reductions needed under the Paris Agreement. And we have to unleash energy efficiency improvements in high potential sectors, including through legislative incentives for saving water and promote the water energy nexus across policies.
We need to act now. People, governments and businesses must work together to realise the full potential of energy savings across all industrial sectors, regions and cities. This will allow us to reap the social, economic and environmental benefits of energy efficiency.
Kamila Waciega, Director, Energy, Public Affairs Department, Veolia
As the European Union is currently discussing its path towards decarbonisation, the essential role of boosting energy efficiency to achieve potential goals for carbon and climate neutrality is unequivocal. In the recently published long-term decarbonisation strategy – a ‘A Clean Planet for All’ – energy efficiency is featured prominently in all eight scenarios outlined by the EU executive, and is specified as the first of seven building blocks identified in the communication. Energy efficiency measures are to play a central role in reaching net-zero greenhouse emissions by 2050, halving energy consumption compared to 2005, in all relevant sectors, in particular in buildings, industry and transport.
Yet, we need a more specific pathway for addressing a sector that currently represents 50% of the final energy consumption – the heating sector. Given its weight in the overall energy mix, and consequently, its tremendous potential for decarbonisation, the heating sector should be the one where energy efficiency efforts are deployed first and foremost. It means not only addressing decreased final energy demand (through an accelerated and thorough renovation of the existing building stocks and the construction of new facilities following the principles of near zero energy buildings) but also and above all, searching for ways to reduce primary energy consumption on the supply side.
Maximising the deployment of renewable energies will imply a continuous fossil fuels and will necessarily contribute towards further electrification across Europe. The former however, might bring challenges as regards the investment costs linked to the increased transmissions capacities, and even more importantly, to proven and flexible infrastructures such as high efficiency district heating networks.
While the sirens of radical modernity are always enticing, in many European countries, district energy enables the selection of an optimal energy mix for a given territory, integrating local renewable energy sources such as biomass, geothermal energy and intermittent renewables. They are also the way to exploit the excess heat that can be found locally – in industrial units, data centres, sewage systems and incineration infrastructures. According to Heat Roadmap Europe, excess heat recovery from industry and heat from power production could cover at least 25% of the district heat production. Also, high efficiency district heating networks are often equipped with cogeneration, i.e. systems generating simultaneously electricity and heat, making possible an effective sectoral integration (especially when coupled with gas networks) and increasing overall efficiency. The role of modern district heating should be further reflected in our common vision for a climate neutral Europe 2050 as many sources of low carbon energy and efficiency potentials might not be feasible without their use.
This article is a contribution from a EUSEW Partner. All rights reserved.
Céline Carré, Head of EU Public Affairs, Saint-Gobain
The energy consumer will be a catalyst towards a decentralized and decarbonized energy system as stipulated in the European Commission’s Clean Energy for All Europeans communication. He/she will be able to change energy supplier, monitor and adapt consumption pattern, and produce energy.
But how to reconcile these opportunities with the imperative to meet our European 2050 climate goals and subsequently reduce energy demand? How to reinvent consumption in a way that values the services provided by energy, e.g. mobility, warmth, or light, instead of perpetuating a production-consumption-wastage model?
As a simple value proposition to help consumer take ownership of the transition, energy efficiency is a recipe for aligning short term actions and long-term goals, individual and collective responsibilities, and, not least, rich and poor.
Energy efficiency reduces our import dependency and provides continuous growth and jobs impetus. It helps consumers reduce their bills and quit energy poverty, and it makes our lives healthier. Without it, global energy demand today would be fifty percent higher for buildings only, and the prospect of a net zero carbon society by 2050 would be a foolish dream since electricity demand is set to double in sectors like housing and transport.
The question is how to ensure that energy efficiency plays the role it deserves for consumers to benefit from the transition. The following five guiding concepts suggest ways to overcome the risks of inconsistent signals to consumers.
Align vision and action – Giving visibility regarding what each sector should deliver for the transition is needed for consumers to take the right decisions.
Build lasting support – Eurobarometer polls show that Europeans expect more action at EU level to tackle environmental issues. Political leaders should not wait to leverage this deeper climate awareness into more concrete forms of engagement.
Practice inclusiveness – The renewed support for action is an invitation to put every consumer at the center of the game. Not every home owner can afford an nZEB renovation, and those who cannot need support. But let’s not forget to design adequate policy mixes for all those ready to jump on the renovation train.
Educate – Policy-makers can explain better the complementarity of solutions, concepts such as “efficiency first”, and the cost of non-action. In the same way than a healthy diet does not simply consist in adding some vegetables twice a week, and requires eliminating junk food, a healthy energy system starts with eliminating wastage.
Champion frontrunners: The beauty of the energy transition is that it starts very close to us, e.g. in buildings, with better thermal comfort, light, or acoustic conditions, and air quality. There is room for empowering early movers who can share convincing success stories.
We are in a long journey with no secret short-cuts or exit buttons, but where energy efficiency can deliver the essential benefits that underpin societal buy-in towards our 2050 goals. To get there, our leaders need to be bold, grasp the renewed momentum, practice joined-up thinking and place citizens’ aspirations at the core of their policies.
This article is a contribution from a EUSEW Partner. All rights reserved.