Q&AGreen facts, energy efficiency

Energy efficiency is a fundamental element in our global fight against climate change. It plays a critical role in minimising the societal and environmental impacts of economic growth in developing and developed nations. Energy efficiency also has a crucial role improving every nation’s security of energy supply. In addition, these benefits can come without a price tag as is the case for insulation where it is easily possible to get five times your investment back in money saved.

The role of energy efficiency in combating climate change and promoting sustainable development is well understood but it is often forgotten how important this role can be. For example, within the European Union such vast quantities of energy are being lost through roofs and walls alone that Europe’s entire Kyoto commitment could be achieved through improving insulation standards. Not only could these reductions be made but recent research into their cost-effectiveness demonstrates that they can be made whilst saving the EU over 8 billion EURO a year by 2010 and creating over 530 000 new jobs.

It is equally concerning that few are even aware of the role that energy efficiency can play in reducing other environmental impacts and protecting quality of life. In the U.S. alone, $5.9 billion could be saved annually in healthcare and economic costs linked to air pollution simply by improving insulation.

Energy efficiency also has a pivotal role in maintaining and increasing standards of living. As developing nations in particular strive to increase standards of living, ensuring the efficient use of energy will be vital if this growth is to be decoupled from environmental and social degradation.

Energy efficiency is not an alternative to energy security; it is a vital component in achieving it. The European Union currently imports 50% of its energy and estimates this will rise to 70% in the next two decades if no further action is taken. The EU’s economic stability and prosperity will therefore be increasingly dependent on the political and economic strategies of its suppliers, and vulnerable to both.

In the EU, energy efficiency (in the graph below described as Negajoules) is already the largest contributor to energy supply security:

Development of primary energy demand and avoided energy use in the EU25, 1971 to 2005.

Negajoules: energy savings calculated on the basis of 1971 energy intensity

Source: COM(2006) 545 and Enerdata 2006

Improving energy performance in EU

The EU works to improve the overall energy performance of its member states in order to:

  • Tackle climate change
  • Face up to the challenge of secure, sustainable and competitive energy
  • Make the European economy a model for sustainable development in the 21st century

By the year 2020, the EU aims to reduce its CO2 emission by 20% compared to the 1990 level, and to increase energy efficiency by 20%. Two key European directives address the building challenge: the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (2002/91/EC) and the Energy End-Use Efficiency and Energy Services Directive (2006/32/EC).

The Energy Performance of Buildings Directive

Put into action in January 2006, the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) requires all 25 EU countries plus Norway and Switzerland to update their national building codes on a regular basis. Currently (2008), the EPBD is undergoing a revision. This revision is expected to introduce further requirements to the EU member states to enable the EU to reach its goals by ensuring even better energy efficiency in buildings.

The Energy End-use and Energy Services Directive

The Energy End-use and Energy Services Directive (ESD) seeks to reduce the amounts of energy required to deliver energy services to European citizens and businesses. A major part of the savings sought in this directive can be achieved through implementing practical energy saving measures, in particular in new and existing buildings. This directive is intended to facilitate the installation of the cost-effective measures available. Each member state must prepare a national energy efficiency action plan every three years.