9 March 2011: European Commission’s Energy Efficiency Plan

The European Commission published its Energy Efficiency Plan yesterday  This document was previously referred to as the energy efficiency action plan, but the word “action” had disappeared from the title, which the cynic would see as symbolic of Europe’s performance on this issue.  Nevertheless, the plan is not bad. The EU has a target to save 20% of total energy use by 2020.  The plan starts with a recognition that “the EU is on course to achieve only half of the 20% objective”.  It therefore proposes measures to meet the full 20%, and argues that the measures, rather than the target, should be binding.   This is sensible, as I argued in my CER paper published in January (see http://www.cer.org.uk/pdf/pb_energyeff_jan11.pdf). Targets have a role, but are less important than policies and funding.

However, the Commission does say that there should be binding targets for the refurbishment rate for public buildings (3% a year).  It also says that in 2013 the Commission will do an assessment of whether programmes are on track to meet the 20% by 2020, and propose legally binding targets if they aren’t.  This document is only the Commission’s proposals, and anything has to be agreed by national governments and the European Parliament before it happens.  One of the arguments against binding targets is that they are not the best use of political and negotiating capital, which may not then be available to get agreement on specific policies.

 The energy efficiency plan is quite strong on combined heat and power.  The Commission proposes that “where there is an appropriate concentration of buildings or industry nearby, authorisation of new thermal power generation should be conditional on…combined heat and power”.  A stronger line would be to say  that if there’s no use for the heat, that isn’t a sensible place to build a power station, but the Commission doesn’t go that far. 

The Commission also published a “Roadmap for a competitive, low-carbon Europe in 2050” yesterday. This says that if the proposals in the energy efficiency plan are implemented, the EU will reduce emissions by 25% by 2020, thus exceeding the 20% emissions reduction target (and neatly dividing those arguing for sticking to 20% and those arguing for an increase to a 30% target).  On carbon capture and storage (CCS), it says that it will need to be broadly deployed after 2035.  This is serious slippage from earlier discussions about widespread deployment after 2025, and reflects growing scepticism about the costs of CCS (which are predicted to be even higher than nuclear).

The roadmap notes that China, India and Korea are all investing much more into low carbon infrastructure, and that the EU is in danger of being leapfrogged.  If this happens, the European economy as well as the global climate will be a loser.

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