Energy Efficiency First is a concrete priority with positive impacts for all Europeans

By Dominique Ristori, Director-General for Energy, European Commission, (pictured)
Summer 2018

Dominique Ristori, Director-General for Energy, European CommissionClimate change is one of the biggest challenges of our time and to address it, the EU has decided to lead the worldwide clean energy transition. In the wake of the Paris Agreement, the European Commission tabled the Clean Energy for All Europeans package in November 2016 in order to set the most advanced regulatory framework that will facilitate the necessary public and private investment towards a modern and low-carbon economy.

Comprising eight different pieces of legislation, this package makes it clear that, alongside renewable energy sources, energy efficiency should be one of the major drivers towards a sustainable society. Let’s not forget – the cheapest, cleanest, and most secure form of energy is the one we do not use.

Over the last 10 years, the EU had already established a number of measures to improve energy efficiency in all sectors – notably through the Energy Efficiency Directive and the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, as well as important rules on Ecodesign and Energy labelling. These measures contributed considerably to a reduction in EU energy consumption and helped consumers save energy and money. But the new proposals go far beyond.

Building on the progress achieved, the EU is now pushing for a more ambitious approach to energy efficiency in order to successfully drive the clean energy transition. This will send the right signal to European investors, companies, national authorities and citizens.

It is worth being ambitious as energy efficiency is not only one of the most cost effective ways to support the transition to a low-carbon economy; it is also an effective way to create investment, growth and employment opportunities. It also increases the competitiveness of industries especially the energy intensive ones, and contributes to reducing the energy bills of consumers and improve their living conditions. Besides, it reinforces Europe's energy security. For every additional 1% increase in the 2030 energy savings target, combined with the 2030 targets for renewables and greenhouse gas emission reduction, the EU can reduce its gas imports by more than 3%.

I am very pleased that moves to accelerate the rate, quality and effectiveness of building renovation in the coming decades have now been agreed in the revised European Performance of Buildings Directive. This is the first part of the Clean Energy Package to be finalised by the European Parliament and the Council showing that energy efficiency is dealt with as a key priority.

It was important to start with the building sector where a considerable cost effective energy saving potential exists. It is the largest energy consumer in Europe, accounting for 40% of final energy consumption and 36% of greenhouse gas emissions in Europe and even more if we take into account heating and cooling. Yet, about three quarters of our building stock is energy inefficient and the current level of renovation is low. Besides, the building sector is an important segment of the EU economy. The construction industry provides already 18 million direct jobs in Europe and accounts for 9% of our GDP.

Based on the Commission’s original proposal, the revised Directive, supported by various financing sources available at EU level, will boost investor certainty and help us to significantly increase renovation rates. The changes to buildings’ energy performance rules will also encourage investors to take advantage of all technologies and progress available such as ICT and the uptake of digital technologies for buildings, in particular smart metering technologies and smart home appliances. These technologies will facilitate the penetration of renewable energy and encourage the active participation of consumers. Similarly, new rules for pre-cabling will facilitate progress on charging points for electric vehicles – one of the obvious bottlenecks in the take-up of this new technology, thus supporting a more sustainable transport system. It is now over to Member States to show their level of ambition by transposing these measures into national law by early 2020.

At the same time, raising the energy performance and intelligence of buildings will strengthen Europe’s competitiveness, reduce the level of greenhouse gas emissions, decrease energy dependence and will foster innovation and the creation of local jobs. In that context, the energy renovation of buildings could become a real European source of growth and jobs.

In addition, reductions of expenditure on energy will help the most vulnerable of our society by alleviating energy poverty, while contributing to better and more comfortable living conditions in households. The EU has made it clear that no citizen should be left behind in the energy transition. This will be one of the many concrete benefits felt by everyone in the transition to a decarbonised the society.

Energy efficiency first is not an advertising slogan but a fundamental principle. It is a concrete and productive priority with positive impacts for all Europeans. It is worth being ambitious as this will underpin the clean energy transition in Europe for 2030 and beyond. This is also highly relevant in the context of the future Long Term Decarbonisation Strategy under the Paris Agreement that the March European Council asked the Commission to present. Public consultation on this long term strategy will be launched in the coming weeks as engagement from all parts of society is key to reap the benefits of the energy transition. This is why I am looking forward to the many great energy projects and ideas presented at the EUSEW 2018.