Energy efficiency in the European Union is constantly improving. But this could be as much down to the economic downturn as its own efforts, a new study has found. EurActiv’s partner Journal de l’Environnement reports.
A study carried out by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) found that the EU’s final energy consumption fell by 6.35% between 2000 and 2014.
On paper this may not look like much. But by cutting out 72 million tonnes of oil equivalent (mtoe), the EU has saved the equivalent of the annual energy consumption of Finland.
What is more, the Commission said, the EU-28 have already achieved the energy efficiency objective fixed for 2020 under the climate and energy package.
The three 20s
Adopted in 2008, this string of measures committed the 28 member states to cutting their greenhouse gas emissions by 20% between 1990 and 2020, to produce 20% of their energy from renewable sources and to improve their energy efficiency by 20%.
The Energy Efficiency Directive fixed the EU’s maximum energy consumption for 2020 at 1,086 mtoe. This objective (which is not legally binding) was achieved six years early.
But whether Europe really has improved or whether it has just benefitted from an unusual set of circumstances remains to be seen.
European industry, which accounted for 16% of the EU’s total energy consumption in 2014, performed well over the 15 years since 2000, cutting its energy consumption by 17.6%. The residential sector followed close behind with a reduction of 9.52%.
However, the performance of the transport (+2.2%) and services sectors (+16.5%) is less impressive.
Industry in crisis
Several factors can explain this tendency. Industry has not only responded to increasing energy costs but has also been suffering from the effects of the economic crisis since 2008. The consumption of the most energy intensive industries – steel, non-metallic minerals, petrochemicals – fell by 24%, 23% and 12% respectively over the last 15 years.
The biggest improvement in energy performance was made by the textiles industry, which cut its consumption by 60%.
But all these improvements can essentially be put down to reduced economic activity. Over the 15 year period, European industrial demand for electricity fell by just 6%, while energy efficiency made absolutely no progress. Just as much power was needed to produce a tonne on steel, cement or paper in 2014 as it was at the turn of the century.
The residential sector is one area that really has performed strongly. Housing consumes almost a quarter of all energy in the EU. In 15 years it cut its energy demand by 10%, and not thanks to a crisis.
Households responded to severe price hikes for gas and electricity (up by 30 to 35% between 2007 and 2015). Keeping a close eye on the thermostat is one way in which consumers have kept their energy bills down, but another is by buying more efficient appliances.
In 2004, just 2% of all electrical appliances sold in the EU had an energy rating of A, compared to 56% in 2014. Products rated B and C have not been brought to the European market since 2012 and 2008 respectively.
With the ban on vacuum cleaners of more than 1.6 kilowatts implemented two years ago and the broadening and strengthening of the standards imposed by the Energy Labelling Directive, the JRC believes this trend will continue.
Services: a sector on the rise
Energy consumption in the services sector rose by 16% between 2000 and 2014. It now accounts for 16% of the EU’s total energy consumption, against 13% in 2000.
Between 2000 and 2010, the increase was as steep as 30%. But the financial crisis and the ensuing stagnation brought the sector’s energy consumption back down by 10% compared to the peak recorded in 2010.
Transport making progress
Transport accounts for one third of all energy consumed in the EU. Like the services sector, demand for oil products from the transport sector rose by a sharp 11% from 2000 to 2007. But this rise had been cancelled out by 2013, thanks to the crisis, and with 352 mtoe in 2014, the amount of energy consumed by the sector only rose by 2.2% from 2000.
Evidently energy efficiency in transport is making great strides: despite a 25% increase in the number of vehicles on the road, the amount of energy consumed by road transport (82% of the sector’s total consumption) rose by just 2%. And other, cleaner modes of transport like rail and water have slashed their consumption by 24% and 29% respectively.