Directive on Energy Efficiency adopted by the EU Parliament in plenary

europe , electrical efficiency , directive , energetic auditDirective on Energy Efficiency adopted by the EU Parliament in plenary

On Tuesday, September 11th, MEPs gathered in Strasbourg in plenary session adopted the first-reading agreement negotiated with Member states, by 632 votes in favour, 25 against and 19 abstentions.

“By passing today the directive on energy efficiency, the European Parliament adopted a missing pillar in the European strategy to combat climate change. It was the missing part of the 2008 energy-climate package, rejoiced Claude Turmes, MEP from Luxemburg (The Greens/European Free Alliance) who supported this text at the Council and in Parliament. “This essential legislation is not only crucial for achieving our energy security and climate goals; it will also give a real boost to the economy and create jobs. (…) Crucially, it will reduce the sizeable and growing cost of our dependence on energy imports – €488 billion in 2011 [of which 60 billion for France, editor’s note] or 3.9% of GDP – which is particularly stark in crisis-hit countries”, he added .

Ambitious energy goals

Member states must transpose the directive into national legislations by early 2014, at the latest. It makes it mandatory for them to implement a number of energy-saving measures, each Member state being responsible for designing an adequate national strategy to reach these goals.

Yearly renovation of 3% of public buildings to serve energy efficiency

Once the directive is transposed into national legislations, EU Member states will be required to renovate 3% of the total floor area of heated and/or cooled buildings owned and occupied by their central government [article 4]. This will apply to buildings with a “total useful floor area” of more than 500 m², and as from July 2015, of more than 250 m². However, Member States will also be able to use alternative means to achieve equivalent energy savings.

Nevertheless, a group of countries led by the UK negotiated an exemption to this rule (particularly to limit spending of European public funds). Local and regional government buildings – although they make up 12% of total office space in Europe – will not be subject to this obligation.

Mandatory energy audits in the private sector

Besides buildings owned or occupied by public bodies, all large companies will be required to undergo an energy audit. These audits will have to start no later than three years after the directive comes into force and will have to be reiterated every four years by certified experts. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) will be exempted from this requirement.

Three-year plans until 2020

In order to meet the goal of cutting energy consumption in the EU by 20% by 2020, each Member state must set for itself three-year energy efficiency targets (2014, 2017 and 2020). The European Commission will first assess progress by June 2014. If these plans are not ambitious enough, the European executive will be able to impose binding measures as from 2014.

“We managed to have the Commission publish a list of complementary, sector-specific initiatives to ensure that the global goal of 20% energy savings by 2020 be met. The course is set, Member states must now implement this directive as soon as possible!” concluded Catherine Trautmann, MEP, member of the Parliament’s Committee on Industry, Research and Energy.

Complementary measures to be found to reach the “triple 20” targets

However, all of the targets mentioned in the early stages of the legislative process have been lowered. For example, although the “triple 20” mantra (20% less energy consumption and CO2 emissions and 20% renewable energy by 2020) is still mentioned in texts, it has actually been revised downwards following negotiations between Parliament and Council. As C. Turmes explains, the directive could, however, be supplemented so as to reach the global targets.*

Problems could also include the implementation of the directive’s measures. The Commission created an ad hoc team of six people responsible for clarifying ambiguous phrases in the text and ensuring it is properly transposed into national legislations, lest Member states should balk at implementing it.

As for “green” and energy-efficiency projects for buildings, most funds will come from the 2014-2020 seven-year European budget, which should spend 20 billion euros on such initiatives, supplemented by funding from the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the European Union emission trading scheme.

Energy suppliers will have to do their bit

The directive [article 6] requires energy distributors to achieve annual energy savings equal to 1.5% of their energy sales, by volume, between 2014 and 2020, thereby reducing their clients’ consumption. Therefore, the law implicitly acknowledges the role of energy suppliers within the energy efficiency policy: the goal is to cut down the volume of energy used whereas population and economic activity keep going up. Distributors will thus have to emphasize their energy audit and counselling initiatives so as to reach the best cost-efficiency ratio. However, Monique Goyens, director general of BEUC, the European consumers’ organization, fears that the final customer might end up paying for these measures: “Consumers are likely to be charged by energy distributors the extra-costs these measures entail”.

Although some Member states such as Portugal and Spain have voiced concerns over the costs entailed by the directive’s full implementation, Claude Turmes argues that such investments are necessary. He bets on lower energy bills in the medium term, more expertise and more jobs. “Let us remember that doing nothing would be more expensive”, the euro-MP says. Henceforth the debate will focus on budgetary issues, i.e. the investments the EIB will be willing to grant and the adoption of the currently discussed EU budget 2014-2020.

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* For instance, with a piece of regulation on energy efficiency for automobiles and fuels, as well as new environment standards for private heating systems (boilers, etc.), which will be added to the directive on eco-design requirements.

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