Towards More Efficient use of Energy

By Günther Oettinger, EU Commissioner for Energy
Autumn 2012

Energy challenges are among the greatest Europe has to face in the coming decade. We know that our economic competitiveness fully depends on a reliable energy supply: a safe, secure, sustainable and affordable energy supply is crucial to the EU’s economic and strategic interests as a global player. The growing EU dependence on imports from third countries therefore represents a matter of great concern, in particular for oil (85 %) and gas (65 %) and explains why Energy Efficiency is to be found at the heart of the EU's Energy Strategy 2020 adopted in November last year.

In order to achieve the increase in energy efficiency a comprehensive mix of energy efficiency policies and supporting measures have been implemented at European and national level promoting a more efficient use of energy in end-use sectors such as buildings, household appliances and industrial equipment, transport, industry as well as in energy generation. However, despite the major progress made, recent Commission estimates suggest that we are on course to achieve only about half of our ambitious objective for 2020. If no further measures are taken, we will only cut our estimated energy consumption by 10% in 2020 - instead of our target of 20%. It is therefore essential that the European Union acts now to achieve its target and to give a new impetus to the energy efficiency agenda in the Member States. In fact, there is still a vast amount of untapped potential to save energy which would save money for individuals and businesses alike, and reduce waste.

To this end, the Commission decided to take determined action in order to tap the considerable potential for higher energy savings and energy efficiency throughout the sectors by adopting a comprehensive new Energy Efficiency Plan in March this year.

The Plan puts a strong emphasis on the buildings sector, where the greatest challenge is to trigger and accelerate a process of energy efficient renovations to reduce energy consumption in our existing building stock. It proposes that each year 3% of existing buildings will be renovated. This is double of the annual rate for renovating buildings. But beyond the public sector, there is a need to create a European market for energy services. With common standards, targeted incentives and obligations, we would not only see our energy costs fall, we would create a dynamic market for new skills, jobs and businesses.

Energy Efficiency also represents the area where consumers can most directly influence and benefit from the long term sustainable energy system. Our energy policies therefore aim to be consumertailored with an emphasis on further transparency and information. Consumers should feel empowered in order to optimize their energy consumption and enjoy their right to basic energy needs at all times, including in a supply crisis. Our main challenge is to make these technologies accessible and cost-effective to the general public. The Energy Efficiency Plan therefore focuses particularly on measures improving the energy performance of households and devices used by consumers - such as appliances and smart meters. This of course also requires the development of appropriate standards for meters and appliances, obligations for energy suppliers to provide consumers with clear information and access to independent energy advice.

With our conventional energy resources becoming scarcer, we should use the current momentum to gradually shift to a resource efficient, low carbon society. Our initiatives for the development of new and renewable energy sources and for reaching a high level of energy efficiency therefore serve this objective.

Europe has currently some of the world's best renewable energy companies and research institutions and we undertake numerous research activities to find new, more efficient ways of producing and using energy. The main challenge today is to accelerate the market uptake of technologies. We need to demonstrate that sustainable energy technologies which contribute to ensuring the security of our energy supply are viable, cost-effective and good for the environment and our economy. I therefore call upon all stakeholders, businesses, citizens and policy makers alike, to join their efforts in supporting the European Union in achieving our medium and long term goals for the benefits of all of us.