As I noted last week, there are intense negotiations underway in Brussels and Strasbourg as the EU Parliament heads towards a key committee vote on the Energy Efficiency Directive at the end of this month. All this has come about because of concerns that Europe will not meet the third leg of its well known 20-20-20 by 2020 target, i.e.;

  • A reduction in EU greenhouse gas emissions of at least 20% below 1990 levels
  • 20% of EU energy consumption to come from renewable resources
  • A 20% reduction in primary energy use compared with projected levels, to be achieved by improving energy efficiency.

Understanding what the energy efficiency target actually is and what it means turned out to be much harder than I imagined. The third bullet above, after some Google searching, led me to COM(2006)545 final, COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMISSION, Action Plan for Energy Efficiency: Realizing the Potential, within which was to be found:

This Action Plan outlines a framework of policies and measures with a view to intensify the process of realizing the over 20% estimated savings potential in EU annual primary energy consumption by 2020 (compared to baseline – see COM(2005)265 final of 22.06 2005). 

The last part of the above which pointed to a further communication was a footnote within the text. This next document (Green Paper) proved to be relatively easy to find (although the EU Commission link to it no longer functioned, but it was in EUR-Lex), but the baseline information was in an Annex, with the key assumption on GDP in a footnote within the Annex. In any case, the Annex provided the following information:

From the early 1970s until 2002, energy consumption in EU-25 rose by almost 40% – or 1% per year – while GDP doubled, growing at an average rate of 2.4% per year. Energy intensity, the ratio of GDP to energy consumption, therefore decreased by a third. However, since 2000, the improvement in energy intensity has been less substantial, reaching only 1% over two years. This Community average does not reflect the considerable differences between Member States caused by the differing economic structures (e.g. more or less energy intensive industry), the national currency exchange rate compared to the Euro and the level of energy efficiency that, by and large, is obviously much better in the EU-15.

If the current trend continues, gross energy demand could increase by 10% by 2020. Growth in electricity demand could also reach 1.5% per year. Today’s consumption in the EU could reach 1900 Mtoe within 15 years (2020), compared with 1725 Mtoe in 2005 (These predictions are made under the assumption of an average growth of GDP as foreseen to be 2.4% per year). . . . . .

. . . . . This Green Paper on energy efficiency envisages to launch the debate on how the EU could achieve a reduction of the energy consumption of the EU by 20 % compared to the projections for 2020 on a cost effective basis. With today’s most advanced technology, it is certainly possible to save around 20% of the energy consumption of the Member States of the EU Total consumption is currently around 1 725 Mtoe. Estimations indicate that, if current trends continue, consumption will reach 1 900 Mtoe in 2020. The objective is thus to arrive, thanks to energy savings of 20% at the consumption level of 1990, i.e.1520 Mtoe.

The 2020 goal is to limit energy consumption in Europe to 1520 Mtoe, but this is based entirely on projecting the early 2000s energy/GDP relationship out to 2020, assuming a continuous economic growth of 2.4% p.a. and then subtracting 20% from the final energy number. Measuring progress to date and comparing it with the original projection and the desired outcome reveals a very mixed picture.

Actual energy use in 2009 (latest IEA data) is well below the Green Paper projection and even just below the proposed pathway to 2020, but energy intensity (kgoe/$ GDP) is falling well short of the 2020 goal pathway. The issue of course is that the original growth projection of 2.4% p.a. bears little resemblance to reality. The EU has gone through a major recession, some parts of the EU remain in recession or worse and even the better performing economies are showing only minimal growth. There is also the possibility that this situation continues for some time.

This means that the EU really had four 2020 targets set in 2008, not three; 20% reduction in GHGs, 20% renewable energy use, 33% economic growth (2008-2020) and energy intensity of 0.09 kgoe/$ GDP. All this has been thrown off track by the lack of growth. The structural improvement in efficiency normally achieved as an economy grows and invests in new or replacement infrastructure has gone, the carbon price has collapsed due to a growing surplus of allowances (linked to both the lack of growth and the mandated investment in renewable energy) and while the EU is apparently on target for its renewable goal, there is pressure in these tight fiscal times to cut subsidies (with a drop in investment presumably following). Arguably, the target structure was only feasible under this one growth scenario.

But the Commission is trying to reboot the system through the proposed Energy Efficiency Directive. This calls for an even lower energy use by 2020 of some 1474 Mtoe p.a., which is presumably in line with a revised growth projection (assuming 0.09 ktoe/$ remains the goal then this appears to be <1% p.a. over the period 2009-2020). The draft Directive now also includes a proposed amendment to set aside allowances in the ETS, restoring confidence in that system as well.

The 2008 Energy & Climate Package would appear to be an over-constrained target framework, lacking in the flexibility needed as the economy twists and turns in unexpected ways over the duration of the time window (15 years). It argues for a more back to basics approach for deployment which simply imposes a carbon price on the economy through the cap-and-trade system. This then guides the way forward, providing the driver for renewable energy investment, greenhouse gas reductions and energy efficiency improvement (due to the cost penalty imposed on fossil fuel derived energy).

The Commission will almost certainly persist with the current framework through to 2020 and may yet have to administer other fixes, but post 2020 should be a new story. With the design of the next phase of the European energy journey looming, a back-to-basics carbon market approach is all that is really needed for the main deployment effort rquired in the economy.