Biogas plants and cogeneration power plants at CornTec, Meppen, Germany. BG Biogas Service GmbH operates a biogas plant in the Alb-Danube region in both Langenau and Seligweiler, each with a cogeneration power plant and a satellite cogeneration power plant. The simultaneous production of electricity and heat, both of which are used, is fueled with biogas from the digestion of energy plants such as corn and whole plant silage. November 8, 2020. (Photo by MWM Energy) Creative Commons license via Flickr
BRUSSELS, Belgium, February 1, 2023 (Maximpact.com Sustainability News) – One-third of European Union countries have not yet introduced any measures to reduce energy demand, and only 12 have put mandatory energy reduction measures in place, finds a fresh analysis of measures adopted by EU governments to reduce gas and electricity consumption. It’s been months since European leaders agreed to reduce their countries’ demand for gas by 15 percent and electricity by 10 percent, but the measures taken to achieve these targets differ widely among EU countries.
Published in December by the largest network of environmental citizens’ organisations on the continent, the 180-member European Environmental Bureau (EEB), the analysis shows that actions taken by the 27 EU governments vary widely across Europe and seem insufficient to meet these energy-saving targets.
France, Germany, Italy and Spain have the most robust measures in place, targeting both public entities and the private sector, households as well as industry and small businesses, the EEB reports. Public campaigns encourage citizens to make small behavioral changes to limit their energy use.
Rules in Spain and France limit air conditioning use in businesses and order advertising signs and shop lights to be turned off at night, extending these guidelines as recommendations to private households, cities and towns. Heating is reduced in all buildings in Italy and at public swimming pools in France and Germany.
In addition to measures taken by central governments, local authorities in these countries have their own reduction plans. In Paris, for instance, public lighting is limited at the Eiffel Tower and street light bulbs are being replaced with more efficient LED lighting.
Germany is the only country that, besides implementing a combination of mandatory and voluntary measures, also has a gas auctioning model in place, which sets incentives for industrial consumers to reduce their gas consumption.
“Sufficiency is fundamental not only to achieving climate neutrality, but also to ensure energy security, and yet we see little action,” the EEB warns in its analysis, “Saving Energy for Europe.”
In July 2022, the EU states signed a commitment to reduce energy consumption by 15 percent in the eight months between August 1, 2022 and March 31, 2023, in comparison to the average consumption of this period in the previous five years.
In September 2022, the EU ministers agreed on a non-binding goal to reduce overall electricity demand by at least 10 percent until March 31, 2023 and on a mandatory target to reduce electricity consumption by five percent at peak hours.
These policy agreements were reached in an effort to reduce Europe’s reliance on Russian gas in view of the growing demand that comes with the winter months.
Yet according to the 2022 BP Statistical Review of World Energy, three of Russia’s top five pipeline gas consumers are the EU states of Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands. Russia’s top five liquid natural gas (LNG) consumers include two EU states, France and Spain.
BP’s Chief Economist Spencer Dale explains the pressures driving energy supply and demand in the 2022 review, writing “The challenges and uncertainties facing the global energy system are at their greatest for almost 50 years, since the time of the last great energy shocks of the 1970s.”
“Most immediate is the impact of the terrible events taking place in Ukraine, with its tragic toll on lives and communities,” Dale writes. “The war also threatens to lead to shortages in food and energy, which could detract materially from health and wellbeing across the globe. From an energy perspective, the growing shortages and increasing prices highlight the continuing importance of energy ‘security’ and ‘affordability’ alongside ‘lower carbon’ when addressing the energy trilemma.”
Against this background of war and climate change, two outside analysts contracted by the European Environmental Bureau examined the gas and electricity saving measures adopted by EU states to date.
Analyst Antonio Kaulard is an environmental economist with the Brussels-based firm Economics and Ecology, Ltd., while Catherine Heiger, an honors student in international studies at Indiana University, served as an intern for the project. Their findings show large disparities across the European Union.
Countries importing large quantities of Russian gas such as Italy and Germany have introduced the most robust measures on gas savings.
Less gas-dependent countries like France and Spain are also at the EU forefront of energy reduction measures, targeting both public entities and the private sector, households as well as industry and small businesses.
Belgium, Denmark, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Malta, Portugal, and Slovenia have adopted a limited set of mandatory measures in public spaces paired with voluntary measures for private entities and citizens.
Austria, Croatia, Czechia, Finland, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, and Poland are focused on voluntary measures carried out through public information campaigns that rolled out last autumn.
Despite being among the heavily gas-dependent countries, with gas supplying 30 to 40 percent of the energy mix, the Netherlands and Croatia have introduced only voluntary gas-saving measures.
In fact, Croatia is moving in the opposite direction. On January 31, the European Commission approved a €104 million Croatian plan to reduce an electricity consumption levy imposed on energy-intensive companies. The scheme aims at combatting the risk that, due to this levy, energy-intensive companies may relocate their activities outside the EU to countries with less ambitious climate policies.
“This €104 million scheme enables Croatia to reduce the risk that energy-intensive companies move their activities to locations outside the EU with less ambitious climate policies. At the same time, it maintains the incentives for an electrification and decarbonisation of the Croatian industry, in line with the European Green Deal objectives,” said Margrethe Vestager, the Commission’s Executive Vice-President in charge of competition policy.
No energy demand reduction measures at all have been adopted in eight of the EU states: Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Sweden.
This is a big mistake on their part, Deputy Policy Manager for Climate at EBB Davide Sabbadin explained. “The sooner we reduce our energy usage, the quicker we reduce pressure on high energy prices, providing effective relief for households and industry.”
“All signals tell us that filling gas storage before next year’s winter might be far more challenging,” Sabbadin warned. “Reducing the energy demand must be the top priority for policymakers, rather than short-term measures to keep us locked into an inefficient, fossil-fuel-hungry model. The EU can definitively do more to coordinate energy-saving action among its member states,” he said.
From left: President of the European Council, Charles Michel, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen following the signing of the Joint Declaration on NATO-EU Cooperation, January 10, 2023, Brussels, Belgium (Photo courtesy North Atlantic Treaty Organization) Creative Commons license via Flickr
Ambitious Goals in Place, But Performance Falls Short
With the European Green Deal Communication in 2019, the European Commission reinforced its climate ambitions, setting an objective of net zero emissions of greenhouse gases in 2050. The European Climate Law in force since July 2021 enshrines the 2050 climate neutrality objective and introduces the intermediate target of reducing net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55 percent by 2030.
But the analysis presented by the EEB, illustrates how governments could do much more to reduce energy consumption.
The EEB analysis proposes five additional measures to facilitate gas and electricity consumption reduction in tandem with the current initiatives of EU states.
1 – Establish an EU energy savings monitoring task force to track action both at national and EU level and verify the effective achievement of the targets for reducing energy consumption. Each EU state should designate a national contact point responsible for implementing measures of energy consumption reduction and reporting to the monitoring task force.
2 – Promote ample dissemination of the energy savings status through coordinated media across the EU. This could provide positive feedback for citizens’ energy-savings efforts. Simple messages could be shared in primetime national TV news and on social media.
3 – Support the fast development of a market for managing gas and electricity demand. This market could consist of a system that rewards the flexibility of consumers (even small, through aggregators) for the intermittent interruption of energy consumption.
4 – Accelerate the diffusion of digital technologies that enable automatic monitoring of energy flows such as smart meters. This would allow people to monitor their energy consumption in real-time and make savings more salient.
5 – Introduce fair and harmonised, EU-wide rules on energy sufficiency measures
Europe Envisions a Clean Energy Future
The European Commission is taking legal steps to ensure the development of renewable energy across the bloc and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, energy dependency and high prices.
On January 26, the Commission decided to refer Bulgaria and Slovakia to the the European Union Court of Justice with a request to impose financial sanctions for failing to transpose the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive into national legislation. Member States were required to transpose the Directive by 30 June 2021, but Bulgaria and Slovakia are among the eight EU states that have adopted no energy-saving measures at all.
And beyond such punitive measures applied to individual EU countries, EU President Ursula von der Leyen of Germany explained that the entire European Union has switched away from Russian fuels to generate its own energy.
In a statement today on the EU’s new Green Deal Industrial Plan, President von der Leyen said, “Almost a year ago we were heavily dependent on Russian fossil fuels. Russia blackmailed us by threatening to cut the energy supply. Actually, they have cut 80 percent of pipeline gas in eight months only. We did not give in, we resisted.”
In response to the hardships and global energy market disruption caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the European Commission presented the REPowerEU Plan last May. REPowerEU is a plan for saving energy, producing clean energy, and diversifying energy supplies. It is backed by financial and legal measures to build the new energy infrastructure and system that Europe needs.
On December 14, 2022, the European Parliament and the Council reached a political agreement on financing REPowerEU and enabling Member States to introduce REPowerEU chapters in their recovery and resilience plans.
“We decided to speed up the diversification away from Russian fossil fuels to other suppliers and, most importantly, to accelerate the investment in renewables,” von der Leyen said. “For that, we tabled REPowerEU in May last year. REPowerEU is focused on reducing demand, on increasing efficiency and, as I said, on accelerating the deployment and infrastructure of renewables. Actually, last year, we doubled the additional deployment of renewable energy. And for the very first time, we generated more electricity from renewables than from gas.”