Navigant Research Blog

Rough Water Ahead for Europe’s Energy Efficiency Efforts

Anna Mitchell — June 17, 2014

Despite the heightened focus on energy security following events in Ukraine, recent election results, which showed a rise in anti-European Union (EU) voting, promise a challenging period ahead for energy efficiency advocates.

According to the European Alliance for Energy Efficiency in Buildings (EuroACE), the month of June, for Europe, brings Energy Dependence Day – the day the EU effectively runs out of indigenous energy and must rely on foreign imports.  With 54% of final energy consumption in 2011 imported, June 18 marked the day Europe used up domestic resources and turned to imports to fulfil its energy demands.  As imports increase, Energy Dependence Day tends to arrive earlier in the year (this year, it’s expected to happen in the second half of June).  In 1995, when Europe only imported 43% of its final energy, Energy Dependence Day came 38 days later, on July 26.

Researchers at Oxfam have suggested that even if the EU fulfils its multiple climate and energy targets, Europe’s energy bill could still surge from €400 billion in 2013 to €500 billion ($543 billion-$679 billion) by 2030 on account of price increases.  Energy demand alone is expected to increase 27% by 2030.  Should Europe fail to meet the agreed targets, it’s difficult to predict how much higher the bill could escalate.

Securing Europe

Energy efficiency surely has a major role to play in any strategy addressing the continent’s mounting import bill.  According to ECOFYS, improving energy efficiency by 40%, together with an energy mix boasting 45% renewables, could save €396 per person annually.  In May, EuroACE campaigned for such a figure as part of a binding target on energy efficiency.

Yet, in the latest European Energy Security Strategy, hastily published in response to the situation in Ukraine, energy efficiency is largely neglected.  Instead, attention centers on securing alternative gas sources in the form of domestic shale reserves or liquefied natural gas (LNG) from overseas.

A Fragmented Landscape

While Russia flexes its muscles on Europe’s gas supply, the political will for collective action in Europe has been severely undermined by last month’s European Parliament elections.  Opposition to EU green policy has been fast to seize the recent election results as evidence of resistance.  On June 2, Energy UK cited the results as vindication for a shift away from the existing “emotion driven and expensive agenda.”

So, how likely is it that a previously elusive binding target on energy efficiency can be legislated under one of the most anti-EU European Parliaments yet? It’s certainly difficult to remain optimistic, despite the urgency political events have generated.  As I discussed in my previous blog, the recent compilation of National Energy Efficiency Action Plans has largely been deemed insufficient by critics, suggesting a lack of engagement among member states.

Yet, buildings account for 40% of Europe’s final energy consumption.  A binding target addressing Europe’s building stock and its energy-saving potential would be one of the most cost-effective ways of reducing Europe’s energy dependence – surely something everyone in the EU would like to see.  But action speaks louder than words.  So far, words far exceed action on energy efficiency in Europe.

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