European Commission publishes recommendation and guidelines on the ‘Energy Efficiency First’ principle

Energy efficiency first has been a guiding principle in European climate and energy policies for many years. It considers energy efficiency as a source of energy in its own right and as a “first fuel” in planning processes and investment decisions. It has been an essential element of the energy union and the Clean energy for all Europeans package. It is defined in the Governance Regulation, which inter alia requires EU countries to consider it in their National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs). In the European Green Deal package, adopted in July 2021, the Commission proposed to incorporate the principle as a legal provision in the Energy Efficiency Directive.

This week the European Commission published a new recommendation and guidelines on the energy efficiency first principle with a view to converting the concept from a principle into practice. While energy efficiency has been a key element of EU policy on emissions reduction for some time now, the energy efficiency first principle was officially written into EU law with the adoption of the 2019 Governance Regulation. This highlighted the essential role energy efficiency plays and the importance of including it in planning processes and investment decisions, for example, through incorporating it in Member States’ National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs).

The recommendation and guidelines therefore aim at encouraging proper implementation of the energy efficiency first principle and making it more operational. The recommendation to EU Member States identifies specific actions be taken to ensure proper application of the principle, while the accompanying guidelines support practical implementation of the principle with practical solutions and refer to measures across different sectors, ranging from the energy supply and distribution to the end-use sectors.

The two documents build on the new article of the Commission proposal for revising the Energy Efficiency Directive, published on 14 July 2021, which sets an obligation for EU countries to ensure that energy efficiency solutions are considered in energy system and non-energy sectors planning, policy and investment decisions.

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