In the words of Bill Gates, “ The barrier to change is not too little caring; it is too much complexity.” They are words that ring true in Europe in the context of approval of a new Energy Efficiency Directive. There is no doubt that Europeans care about climate change and improving energy efficiency. But the huge complexity in improving energy efficiency resides in the multitude of types of energy consumer, the difficulty of setting long-term government policies, the complication of gauging industry activity, the need for financing, and the requirement for solid research.
The draft Energy Efficiency Directive, currently going through the approval process, provides policy measures for Europe to achieve the 2020 objective of a 20% energy savings. Without the new measures, the Commission and many others estimate that only 9% of that target will be achieved.
Enter, the complexity.
The first problem is measurement of savings and there is no agreement on any single approach. In the past, the International Energy Agency and others simply used an energy intensity ratio of energy consumed per unit of economic output. But this measurement does not address improvements in energy efficiency or savings. It was used because it was the only measure that could be agreed upon.
A year ago, the eceee agreed that the energy intensity ratio was not enough. “More emphasis must be placed on actual energy savings (i.e. reduction in energy consumed) in order to contribute meaningfully to climate change objectives and to adequately address energy security,” the eceee said in an excellent report. “Improving energy efficiency, while important, is not sufficient. Energy savings that include and measure consumption reductions are necessary.” Readers are encouraged to go back to that report for more on targets and target setting.
Another area of complexity concerns policy options such as energy efficiency obligations, whereby energy companies would be required to use a certain percentage of their sales to promote energy efficiency. Even though the 2006 Energy Services Directive promoted this approach and there have been stacks of reports showing how it can be done, only a few EU member states have taken it up so far. There seems to be reluctance and a credibility gap.
Through the whole range of policy instruments there are complex issues of design and application. But there is also complexity in the political and policy-making context. The expletives in Brussels abound, about Council (i.e. the 27 member states) dragging its feet and refusing to accept the level of ambition that is shared by the Commission and the European Parliament amendments. It is complex building a shared view amongst all the policy-making parties as well as the energy efficiency community.
Europe has policies that are at the head of the global class – policies such as nearly zero energy buildings. There is already a lot to be proud of and a lot that reflects Europeans’ caring about climate change. Let’s build on the achievements, with a long-term perspective that accounts for the need for policies to reflect the complexity of designing good implementation, monitoring and compliance mechanisms.
Let’s not alienate those who care but may have their very good reasons for taking time, or even taking a step back. Let’s not let complexity drive away the committed.