Experts discuss how to reduce energy use

In late January, Rexel and the CGEMP* brought together nine French experts on energy efficiency at the Université Paris Dauphine. The meeting was an opportunity for engineers, the industry, legal experts and institutions to exchange views on key topics related to energy efficiency (policy-making, economic opportunities, fuel poverty, etc.). Here is an overview of the different declarations and the main conclusions of the meeting (click here for a list of the attendees).

energy efficiency, jean-Charles Pauze, CGEMP, Rexel, fuel povertySocial and economic reality at the forefront

Energy prices are high and are expected to rise further in the short and medium term. On this assumption, our experts emphasize the importance of energy efficiency in regard to the environment (energy saving), the economy (cheaper bills, creation of a new employment sector) and social issues (reduction of fuel poverty).

Philippe Pelletier, lawyer and president of the Strategic Committee on Building and Housing of the Grenelle Environnement, a multi-party debate in France on environmental issues, highlights the particular importance of stemming fuel poverty: “Looking at the numbers, nowadays over 3,800,000 households spend 10% of their income on heating. (…) Contrary to common beliefs, they are senior citizens and homeowners, living in detached houses in rural areas. The issue of care-dependency thus adds up to fuel poverty!” According to Jean-Charles Pauze, CEO of Rexel, building construction and renovation represent a business pool which can meet the challenge: “40% of global energy consumption is used to power buildings, which is precisely our job. Low energy buildings* use four to five times less energy! The stakes are very high! It represents an extra 1000€ of purchasing power per household.”

Rethinking our relationship to energy on the long run

When asked how the global energy consumption could be reduced, the participants to the meeting almost unanimously answered that educating consumers is essential. Colette Lewiner, international director of smart energy services at Capgemini, took the example of LED balls in California: “Californian energy suppliers decided to offer their customers, who so wish, a LED ball whose colour changes according to the consumption period. This very easy technique, which does not impact the energy supply, surprisingly increases efficiency. It shows that cheaper electricity bills do not necessarily imply more complex equipment. Customers adjust their consumption according to the colour-changing LED ball.”

Necessary steps are to be taken at the political level in order to make behaviours evolve. Promoting the energy efficiency sector, raising the consumers’ awareness, offering solutions to poor households, as well as shaping tomorrow’s electric system: that’s what the government should be doing, according to our experts. Some are already moving forward to take up the challenge, especially at European level, as Bernard Laponche (nuclear physicist, expert on energy efficiency) explains: “If you take a close look at what has been done so far, you must recognize that significant efforts have been made at European level. If the consumption pattern in 1974 had been confirmed, we would have used twice more energy in 2010 than we actually did. European directives and other policies have thus had a real impact, although we should be far more ambitious.”

The leading role of the European Union was stressed several times. Its directives are very advanced on energy issues and urge Member States to reach specific goals: “We design a common framework for energy efficiency, and the top priority goal is to lower energy consumption by 20%. Each Member State must see to it that from January 1st 2014 on, public authorities renovate annually 3% of the floor space they use. Besides, Member States must design an energy efficiency obligation scheme aimed at ensuring that all energy distributors achieve annual energy savings equal to 1.3% of their energy sales, by volume, in the previous year. Member States must also ensure that customers be equipped with smart meters, accurately measuring their actual consumption.” (Sylvia-Adriana Ticau – Member of the European Parliament, specialized on energy issues, rapporteur on the Directive on the energy performance of buildings in 2008-2010).

The industry at the core of a high-tech sector

Why does Rexel participate to this debate? Jean-Charles Pauze stresses that “the industry is faced with these issues on a daily basis. (…) It is clear that our interaction with a wide range of stakeholders within the energy sector and our outreach to thousands of clients give us a unique role and make us responsible for moving forward”. Armand Ajdari, R&D president at Saint-Gobain, shares the same view. He is confident that the industry is able to interact with the sector as a whole (especially with self-employed craftsmen, who are often unfamiliar with energy efficiency works), to offer solutions and to prompt the government to react. What is at stake is the development of a French cutting-edge energetic and thermal renovation sector. 70% of the buildings which will be used in 2050 already exist. Given the rise of energy prices and the scarcity of resources, renovating a building without taking energy efficiency into account would be “criminal”, according to Mr Ajdari.

By way of conclusion, Professor J-M Chevalier, economist and member of the CGEMP, declared: “I am struck to see how innovative these projects are: if I were a student here at Dauphine attending this meeting, I would say to myself: ‘This is fantastic, there are so many future opportunities out there!’ On the one hand, energy is getting more and more expensive, and on the other hand citizens and consumers are getting aware of the advantages of energy efficiency. Everything that has been said here calls for new business models: this formidable undertaking will bring about new jobs, along with innovative and smart solutions for the future.”

Proceedings of the symposium on energy efficiency

*CGEMP : Centre of Geopolitics of Energy and Raw Materials

*in French BBC (low consumption building)

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