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European directive sets continent on course for savings of 15 per cent by the end of the decade

Published: 7th July 2012

Article from: Energy in Buildings & Industry Magazine – June 2012

The European Union has agreed a new energy efficiency directive, intended to improve dramatically energy efficiency delivery during this decade.  The legislation has the potential to overhaul the business model for European gas and electricity utilities, requiring them to help consumers to save fuel. 

Yet everyone acknowledges that – even with the new legislation – the EU is still destined to fall well short of the 20 per cent indicative target improvement by 2020, agreed with great fanfare only three years ago.  According to the European Commission, before the new directive as agreed, trends suggested that only a 9 per cent improvement would be reached.  If implemented in full, the new directive could help deliver a 15 per cent reduction.

The core of the deal remains a compromise over energy saving obligations for energy suppliers.  Member states agreed to bundle together a list of “flexibility measures” (i.e. ways of softening the energy saving obligation) and to have these cover up to 25 per cent of the 1.5 per cent annual energy saving obligation to be imposed on energy suppliers.  The flexibility measures include credits for early action in previous years.

The largest loss of potential savings was in much weakened rules on consumer information provision through smart meters and billing.  Consumers won’t get information on their energy expenditure every month for example, but only every three months on demand, or every six months otherwise.  Combined heat and power (CHP) too is a reduced source of potential savings because governments refused to accept is as the default option for new installations.  Buildings were the subject of earlier directives, but the Parliament managed to retain the requirement for national building renovation roadmaps looking ahead to 2050.  In return, member states insisted that a 3 per cent annual renovation requirement apply to central government buildings only and they forced through similar restrictions for public procurement.  All this shrinks the “exemplary role” of the public sector.

During the negotiations between the European Parliament and national governments, the UK in particular came in for heavy criticism from the EP’s lead, Luxembourg MEP Claude Turmes. 

“The UK is weakening the directive, article by article, asking for educed ambitions in exchange for London’s cooperation,” Turmes said, adding that the UK had convinced other governments to oppose the overall 20 per cent target by asking endlessly for exemptions.

“The Green Deal is more and more a smokescreen,” Turmes said in reference to Britain’s position.

 “The greenest government ever is an impostor, they have no money and no ambition behind words,” he added, referring to Prime Minister David Cameron’s claim of being “the greenest government ever” when he came to power.

His stance was endorsed by JK green campaigners who accused the UK government of being the main player watering down the ambition in the top line saving from 20 per cent to 15 per cent.

Friends of the Earth said:  “The UK government played a particularly significant role in weakening the directive by opposing an overall binding energy saving target and, at the last minute, insisting on loopholes so it could claim credit for old policies as a way of meeting its future obligation.”

WWF-UK criticised the government for “cynically undermining” negotiations, saying that the government’s position had “effectively scuppered” the potential for energy savings across Europe.

A government spokesman said that the “UK has supported efforts to secure a deal provided that there is sufficient flexibility to take account of Member States’ individual circumstances.”


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