A home in Langerringen that was recognized by the German energy agency DENA for its energy efficiency Source: DENA

 The European Commission set challenging targets to improve energy efficiency targets by 2020. PEi explores how the 27 nations are progressing, focusing on buildings, appliances and road transport.

Penny Hitchin

In 2008 the European Union (EU) adopted an integrated energy and climate change policy with ambitious targets for 2020: greenhouse gases to be cut by 20 per cent from 1990 figures; 20 per cent of energy needs to be met from renewable sources; and energy consumption to be reduced by 20 per cent through increased energy efficiency.

Efforts to save energy by using it more efficiently date back well before the EU introduced its energy and climate change policy. The oil price rises of the 1970s were a major shock to Western economies, and led to various regional and national attempts to improve energy intensity and efficiency.

National building regulations

Since the 1970s every Member State has set national minimum standards for new buildings’ thermal insulation and equipment. In 2002, the EU adopted the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD), which set minimum efficiency standards for both residential and commercial buildings.

In 2009, the EPBD was updated so all buildings undergoing major renovation have to meet energy performance requirements. However, as the national standards are set by each Member State, there is a wide range of energy efficiency across the building stock of the 27 states.

Germany is often cited as an exemplar of good practice, as any building undergoing substantial renovation must meet high energy efficiency standards. DENA (the German energy agency) issues the prestigious Efficient House quality mark to newly built and refurbished homes that meet low energy standards.

Low cost finance is available for construction and refurbishment via the ‘Energy Efficient Construction and Rehabilitation Programme’ run by KfW Förderbank (the largest business unit of the public-owned KfW bank). Loans are readily available to individuals, property companies and social landlords to improve the insulation of post-war housing and commercial property.

The scheme has financed the upgrading of hundreds of thousands of homes, simultaneously modernizing accommodation and reducing ongoing energy costs. In 2009, KfW put around €9 billion ($12 billion) into refurbishment. KfW’s lending has also created an effective and flexible eco-refurbishment industry, notably in the east of the country.

Sweden has gone further – every time a building is sold or rented the owners must prove it meets high and increasing efficiency standards. Greenhouse gas emission from its buildings have been cut by over 70 per cent in the last 20 years, primarily by switching from oil to district heating.

In June 2006, the Swedish parliament decreed that residential buildings’ energy use should decrease by 20 per cent per heated unit area before 2020. This requires improvements to existing stock as well as changes to new buildings. Low-energy renovation of the existing building stock could reduce energy consumption by over 50 per cent.

RECENT EU ENTRANTS

Energy intensity figures of some new EU members show scope for considerable energy efficiencies. Poland has improved residential energy consumption by almost 20 per cent over the last five years by retrofitting existing buildings.

Over the last decade Hungary has improved the efficiency of industrial energy use, but has a long way to go in improving the efficiency of homes. The most important building renovation programme is called ‘Energy-efficient renovation of residential buildings built with industrialized technology’.

The programme undertakes the energy-efficient renovation and modernization of pre-fabricated flats made of blocks with weak heat insulation characteristics. These make up 18.8 per cent of flats in Hungary. Up to one third of the investment cost, up to €1490, is financed by the state. Another third comes from the municipality, with one third paid by the owner. Improving the energy efficiency of existing building stock could enable Hungary to cut its annual gas imports by 40 per cent.

In Romania, the energy efficiency of the household sector rose by 36 per cent between 1996 and 2006, a figure which partly reflects a low base of poor efficiency levels in 1996. Measures to improve the energy efficiency of existing buildings are now in place and better standards for new homes have been developed. Energy labelling of household appliances and receivers has been extended. Lower subsidies and higher energy prices have raised the uptake of efficiency measures.

Helping Buyers understand products’ energy efficiency

The first EU labelling scheme in 1992 applied to refrigeration equipment, washing and drying machines, ovens, hot water production and supply, lighting sources, and air conditioning devices. An increase of 25 per cent in refrigeration efficiency from 1992 to 1999 followed. The EU is currently considering new energy performance standards for 20 product categories including computers, lighting and standby power.

The EU Energy Label has evolved so that across the Union all light bulbs, cars and most electrical appliances must carry an Energy Label. The energy efficiency of the product is rated in colour-coded energy levels ranging from A to G where ‘A’ is the most energy efficient and ‘G’ the least. Gradings A+ and A++ have been added for refrigerated appliances: A+ fridges are at least 25 per cent more efficient than Class A models, while A++ models can be up to 60 per cent more energy efficient.

Tracker for energy efficiency within the EU, scaled from A (excellent) to G (poor) Source: WWF and Ecofys

Energy consumption figure show units of electricity used in kWh, allowing comparisons between models, and providing an incentive for manufacturers to improve the energy performance of their products.

The Topten website (www.topten.info) guides consumers to the most energy-efficient household appliances, office equipment and cars in Europe. Topten now operates in 16 EU countries, as well as China and the USA. Financed partly by the European Commission and coordinated by the French Agency for the Environment and Energy Management (ADEME), the Euro-Topten project was launched in 2006 to promote the creation of national Topten websites within the EU. The project aims to cover 74 per cent of EU27 inhabitants, to attract 3 million annual hits, and to generate an annual electrical consumption reduction of 300 GWh. Products on Topten websites must comply with specific standards in their energy and water consumption, power, sound, market availability, etc.

Road transport emissions continue to rise

Figures published in October 2010 by the European Environment Agency (EEA) show transport energy consumption increased by 38 per cent between 1990 and 2007 to 463 Mtoe (million tonnes of oil equivalent) in 2007.

Road transport consumes 72 per cent of transport energy. Aviation is the fastest growing energy consumer, increasing by 84 per cent between 1990 and 2007. The new Member States show faster annual growth in consumption (3.3 per cent) than the first 15 Member States (2.2 per cent).

Improvements in energy efficiency, such as by 1.5 per cent a year for new cars since 1995, have fallen far short of offsetting the growth in transport demand, especially as demand for air travel has also contributed to the increase. The growth in energy consumption in the transport sector is projected to average 1 per cent a year in the 27 EU states in the 30 years to 2030 if no further policy measures are taken.

Individual state policy instruments include measures to improve the energy efficiency of vehicles, as well as efforts to influence the use of cars. These include fiscal measures – taxes or subsidies – on car purchases, car ownership, motor fuels, road pricing, CO2-labelling of cars, incentives for car scrapping and subsidies for the use of biofuels.

Countries with high vehicle taxes – such as Denmark, Finland, Norway, the Netherlands, Ireland and Portugal – have lower rates of car ownership than the European average. Some countries have structured vehicle taxation to reflect cars’ CO2 emissions or energy efficiency.

Fuel taxation plays a key role in driving energy-efficient behaviour. In Norway, Sweden, Finland and Germany, specific CO2/environmental taxes have been set up for motor fuels. Taxation of fuel in Germany and UK follows an escalator approach with periodical growth rates planned in advance to give strong signals to the consumer on future price trends.

Road pricing can increase energy efficiency. CO2/energy efficiency labelling informs consumers about the fuel consumption of vehicles. Scrapping programmes have been tried but there is a trend for consumers to replace old cars with more powerful new ones. An early measure under ‘Le Grenelle de l’Environnement’, a French multi-party drive for sustainable development, was a financial incentive based on CO2 emissions on the purchase of new vehicles, introduced in January 2008.

Purchasers can gain at least €200 for any vehicle emitting less than 130 g of CO2/km. The bonus can reach €5000 for an electrical vehicle that emits less than 60 g of CO2/km. Purchasing a model emitting more than 160 g of CO2/km incurs a penalty from €200 up to €2600.

CCFA (Comité des Constructeurs Français d’Automobiles) found a surge in category B vehicles sold (100–120 g of CO2/km), and a drop in sales and market share for vehicles in the high polluting categories, ranging from D to G (more than 140 g of CO2/km).

The German parliament also introduced a tax on road freight transport in 2005. The rate depends on the distance covered and the vehicle’s emission level and axle type. This measure gives rail freight transport a significant comparative advantage. The potential greenhouse gas emission reduction has been estimated at 1–5 million tonnes of CO2 per year. The €3400 million collected each year from the tax is used for road maintenance, railways and navigable routes.

Community or public bike rental programmes can encourage low carbon transport in city centres. Paris’s Vélib’ scheme set up only three years ago has 17 000 bicycles and 1202 stations throughout the city centre.

Efficiency Measures are not on Track to meet EU Target

The Climate Policy Tracker for the EU published in November 2010 finds that support for renewables has been widely implemented across Europe but improvements in energy efficiency in transport and industry seriously lag behind.

The report from WWF International and analysts Ecofys says that no country has the policy framework needed to meet the target of an 80–95 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Denmark, Germany, Ireland and Sweden perform best – although they only achieve a ‘D’ rating on the A to G scale. The UK and most EU Member States receive a lowly ‘E’ rating, while Bulgaria, Cyprus, Finland, Greece, Luxembourg, Malta, Poland and Romania qualify only for an ‘F’ rating.

This article has looked at a few of the plethora of national initiatives that are in place to make better use of energy. However, if the EU energy efficiency target is to be met, Member States have to do far more to influence, persuade or compel individuals, businesses and the public sector to utilize energy more efficiently, as well as lower their carbon footprints.

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