On February 25, 2015, the European Commission adopted the Framework Strategy for a Resilient Energy Union along with the Forward-Looking Climate Change Policy. The purpose of the framework, which is one of the key priorities of President Juncker’s political term, is to outline the Europe’s vision of an Energy Union and the main actions that have to be taken in the next few years to achieve this goal.
The proposed Energy Union aims to address the energy challenges facing Europe, to bring greater energy security, sustainability and competitiveness to the European energy market. To achieve this, the Framework focuses on five mutually supporting ‘dimensions’: energy security, solidarity and trust; a fully integrated internal energy market; energy efficiency as a contribution to the moderation of energy demand; decarbonisation of the economy; and research, innovation and competitiveness.
The ‘energy security, solidarity and trust’ dimension is dominated by discussions on natural gas and, as the title insinuates, a resolution to the Russia – Ukraine predicament. ‘Decarbonising of the economy’ reinforces the 27% energy saving targets set out in October 2014, while ‘research, innovation and competitiveness’ underlines the strategy to maintain European technological leadership in energy and climate related research.
Whilst a ‘fully integrated energy market’ will have implications across the sector, the dimension creating the most discussion in the smart building space is, unsurprisingly, ‘energy efficiency as a contribution to the moderation of energy demand’.
The European Commission insists that all economic sectors must take steps to increase the efficiency of their energy consumption, but it will pay special attention to those sectors with the most significant energy efficiency potential, highlighting the transport and buildings sectors above all.
In fact, retrofitting existing buildings to make them energy efficient, and making full use of sustainable heating and cooling, will reduce the EU’s energy import bills, improving energy security and cutting energy costs for households and businesses. Consequently, the European Commission will develop a ‘Smart Financing for Smart Buildings’ initiative to make existing buildings more energy-efficient, facilitating access to existing funding instruments.
70% of the EU’s existing building stock is highly inefficient, Climate Action and Energy Commissioner Miguel Cañete told reporters at a press conference after EU energy ministers met in Brussels on March 5th. Meeting Europe’s full efficiency potential would cut gas imports by 40% over the next fifteen years, according to Commission analysis.
However, experts are divided on whether the European Commission's proposals to foster an Energy Union are strong enough to drive forward energy efficiency measures, and in particular the renovation of existing buildings.
Reactions from the environmental lobby suggest this synthesis has only been partially successful. Legal NGO ClientEarth says the strategy lacks clear rules on how EU targets will be met. Thinktank E3G says the strategy is "good on vision, but deeply confused on delivery priorities". NGO Greenpeace says the plan is "contradictory" and lacks coherence, while the WWF says it has "blind spots".
The Framework Strategy for the Energy Union does speak compellingly on energy efficiency when it states that “it is necessary to fundamentally rethink energy efficiency and treat it as an energy source in its own right, representing the value of energy saved”. This is especially relevant when you consider European Union’s energy efficiency targets for 2030. However, the plans set out in the Energy Union for how to transform EU’s wealth of inefficient buildings into high performing buildings which match the needs of the future, appear currently, to be more “vision” than “action”.
The Commission has promised to make access to energy efficiency financing easier to companies and organisations in order to overcome one of the single biggest hurdles in delivering energy savings. The proposed ‘Smart Financing for Smart Buildings' initiative, should facilitate access to existing financial instruments, and outline a strategy to facilitate investment in heating and cooling.
“Attracting investments at the scale needed remains a challenge, especially at the local level, mainly due to lack of awareness and expertise in small-scale financing” claims the Commission’s report. It suggests the framework will support ways to simplify access to existing financing, and offer ‘off-the-shelf’ financing templates for financial instruments to the European Structural and Investment Fund’s managing authorities and interested stakeholders.
The Commission also said it will promote new financing schemes based on risk and revenue sharing, develop new financing techniques, and review the Energy Efficiency and Energy Performance of Buildings Directives, in a bid to create a framework that is fit for purpose in delivering energy efficiency in buildings.
The Commission’s report left a strong message on the local responsibility to harness the huge savings available from greater building efficiency, stating “actions by member states, particularly at the local and regional levels, are needed to exploit the energy efficiency potential of buildings”.
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