Every Day We Postpone Is a Mistake
This was the uncompromising message Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs delivered when the European Parliament's Energy committee met counterparts from national Parliaments on 24-25 January. With Europe facing the effects of climate change, highly priced oil extracted from unstable or potentially hostile states and the ongoing "gas row" between Russia and her neighbours, improving energy efficiency and measures to coordinate Europe's approach to its energy needs have never been more important.
The EU will import 90% of its oil and 80% of its gas by 2030, - much of which comes from unstable regions like the Middle East. The recent disruption of supply from Russia and her disputes with her neighbours, added to growing tension with Iran have added to fears over supplies. Opening the debate Parliament's President Josep Borrell said all this had "underlined just how vulnerable Europe is" in a world where "energy will increasingly be used as a weapon".
Technology can lead the way in energy efficiency
The good news is that supplies of oil and gas are not just in the realm of geo-politics - ordinary people can make a huge impact on energy saving in their daily lives. Europe's buildings currently account for about 40% of all energy used in the EU - with private households using two-thirds of this. Just changing to energy saving light bulbs (which use five times less electricity than normal ones) can make a huge difference. Equally, leaving electrical gadgets such as TVs and videos on "Standby mode" is estimated to account for 10% of all household energy use in the EU. Moreover the practical and proven technology "already exists" to help save money on heating bills, notes Andrew Warren of the European building sector NGO "Euro ACE".
The technological importance of increasing energy efficiency was driven home by Spanish European People's Party MEP Alejo Vidal-Quadras - the Energy committee's Rapporteur on the subject. He stressed the opportunities apparent for technology to help fight climate change - although he was critical of attempts to limit EU investment in this area in the new financial perspective for the Union agreed for 2007-2013. His draft report on energy efficiency can be viewed using the link at the bottom of the page.
At the start of January a new piece of European legislation on "Energy performance of buildings" came into force. It establishes a common method for calculating the energy performance of all buildings in the EU, sets minimum standards for energy efficiency and establishes a system of building certification allowing people to see how much energy their homes are using. In December last year EU members agreed energy efficiency plans to make savings in the energy supplied to end users.
Some 70% of oil used in the EU goes into the transport sector with cars being responsible for half of all energy consumption in this sector. The fuel efficiency of cars has improved dramatically due to a voluntary agreement with the car industry to reduce vehicle fuel consumption - cars in 2008-09 will be 25% more fuel efficient than in 1998. However, the increasing numbers, power and usage of vehicles will probably offset these gains and other measures (such as fuel taxes) are one option to improve efficiency.
A Renewable future?
It is clear that renewable forms of energy will become ever more important. By 2010, 12% of Europe's energy will derive from reusable sources such as wind and solar power. At the moment the EU produces three quarters of all wind energy in the world. However, a great deal needs to be done to develop this sector and President Borrell called for "a real public debate" on the issue. One absurdity he pointed out was that northern EU countries are producing more solar energy than the southern ones - clearly showing there is great room for improvement.
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