Actually, it’s ‘Energy Efficiency First’ The EU Says

EU Commission vice president Maroš Šefčovič presents the State of the Energy Union report. Photo: European Commission
EU Commission vice president Maroš Šefčovič presents the State of the Energy Union report. Photo: European Commission

While America is bolstering its fossil fuel industry, energy efficiency is spearheading the European Union’s efforts to reduce its reliance on it.

“Despite the current geopolitical uncertainties, Europe is forging ahead with the clean energy transition. There is no alternative,” EU climate commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete said in a statement on the day that European Commission vice president Maroš Šefčovič updated the European Parliament on the results of the union’s energy policies (1 February).

Šefčovič, who presented the State of the Energy Union progress report, says Europe’s energy strategy is not just focused on climate change and energy, but also “about accelerating the fundamental modernisation of Europe’s entire economy, making it low-carbon, energy and resource efficient, in a socially fair manner.”

Energy Efficiency First

A key aim of the EU’s Energy Union strategy is to better integrate Europe’s energy markets and make the continent less reliant on fossil fuel imports from countries like Russia. The principle of “Energy Efficiency First” is the heart of this strategy, according to the European Commission.

The EU Commission says its recently proposed energy efficiency targets for 2030 could create 400,000 new jobs, reduce the continent’s gas imports by 12 per cent, save €70 billion in fossil fuel imports and reduce health care costs by more than €8 billion per year.

The new report shows Europe is on track to meet or exceed its 2020 energy efficiency, renewable energy and greenhouse gas reduction targets and notes that economic growth has been decoupled from Europe’s emissions.

An Energy Source in its Own Right

Energy efficiency should be seen as an energy source in its own right, according to the Commission, which says it will play a key role in speeding up the transition to clean energy and boosts growth and jobs.

The buildings sector, for example, accounts for 40 per cent of Europe’s energy consumption. Renovating existing buildings, households and businesses could greatly reduce their energy use – and drastically cut bills. But efficiencies could also cut the energy use of large-scale industries, where cost reductions of up to 10 per cent are on the horizon according to the Commission.

The European Union’s climate innovation initiative, Climate-KIC, connects universities and businesses to build a new foundation for Europe’s industry, fast-tracking new cost-cutting and emissions-reducing innovations. Climate-KIC also runs a Building Technologies Accelerator to speed up the decarbonisation of the buildings sector.

Two-thirds of Europe’s buildings were built when energy efficiency requirements were limited or non-existent, which means there is a huge opportunity to upgrade existing buildings to drive down costs and emissions. Climate-KIC’s buildings accelerator tests out new energy efficiency innovations and building materials in real-life settings in homes and offices around Europe.

Heating And Cooling

About half of all energy used in Europe is for cooling and heating, and renewables only contribute 18 per cent to that. An adaptive solar façade developed at ETH Zurich is just one of many efforts to help counter that. The system can be installed on existing buildings to generate electricity and provides good daylight distribution and shading.

Keeping buildings warm accounts for more than 80 per cent of heating and cooling consumption in colder climates. In warmer countries, space cooling is the most important use – and it is growing because of climate change.

Better insulation is one of the first places to start to keep heating and cooling bills down. Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands is testing out a new innovation that acts like a building’s second skin. Existing buildings can be upgraded with the pre-fabricated material and the occupants can continue to use the space during construction.

Making Buildings Great Again

On average, the renovation rate of buildings in the European Union is around 1 per cent per year according to the European Commision. This means that renovating all of Europe’s buildings would take roughly 100 years.

Although in Germany and France, around 1.75 and 1.5 per cent of buildings are already being renovated annually, the European Commission says it is introducing new measures to further speed up the decarbonisation of existing buildings as part of its Clean Energy for All Europeans mega-plan, first announced last year.

Europe’s construction industry generates almost 10 per cent of the EU’s GDP and accounts for 18 million direct jobs, while the engineering sector employs 11 million people. The European Commission expects these sectors to grow as demand for renovations and construction picks up speed.

“Now that a large part of the relevant legislative proposals are on the table, 2017 should be the year of implementation,” said Šefčovič.

The EU Commisison also notes that small and medium businesses contribute more than 70 per cent of the value added in the Europe’s building sector. When taking into account that construction activities that include renovation work and energy retrofits add almost twice as much value compared to the construction of new buildings, this could be good news for economic growth as well as the climate.

Find out how Climate-KIC accelerates energy efficiency in Europe’s buildings and industrial sector.

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