EU energy efficiency efforts are not enough

28th February 2012


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EU policies aimed at cutting energy are 'lamentably inadequate' and reduction targets should be doubled, according to environment academics

Researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA) have lambasted the EU’s efforts to encourage greater energy efficiency across the bloc as ineffective, arguing that there is a lack of political and financial support.

In their report, Refurbishing Europe, Bruce Tofield and Martin Ingham of the UEA’s Adapt Low Carbon Group. urge the EU to up energy efficiency targets to a 40% reduction in total energy demand by 2050.

The existing goal is a 20% reduction by 2020 but, according to Tofield and Ingham, current efforts mean the bloc will only achieve a 10% reduction in energy consumption by 2020, with member states’ efforts focused on decarbonising and security of energy supply, rather than on managing demand.

The report, published by the Build with CaRe consortium, argues that refurbishing buildings to improve their energy efficiency, would provide the most cost-effective way to significantly reduce energy demand and lower carbon emissions, but that greater political ambition and support is needed.

“Buildings are responsible for 40% of Europe’s energy-related greenhouse gas emissions, so overhauling their energy efficiency represents the greatest opportunity for energy saving and greenhouse gas reduction,” said Dr Tofield.

“The biggest barrier is lack of political will to accelerate progress in energy efficiency. New build ambition is insufficient and the rate of building refurbishment …is far too low.”

The report cites the UK’s requirements for zero carbon homes as an example of policymakers failing to be ambitious enough. According to the report, the decision by the government not to require construction firms to install sufficient onsite renewable technology to offset the energy consumed that used by appliances as well as heating, water and lighting, as part of the efficiency standard lessens its impact.

“One thing that UK-defined ‘zero-carbon homes’ will not be is zero-carbon,” states the report. “This UK decision to weaken standards for new homes will have negative impacts over decades for industry, for consumers, for innovation and for tackling climate change and, crucially, in the ability to undertake deep low-energy refurbishment of the existing building stock.”

The report advocates the wider adoption of the tougher European “passivhaus” energy-efficiency building standard, which is promoted by Build with CaRe. It argues that adopting the standard could reduce energy used for heating and cooling buildings by up to 90% and enable the bloc to meet the proposed 40% energy reduction target.

The UEA’s report follows similar research from Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute last month, which argued that if 40% of the £35 billion spent each year maintaining buildings was instead invested in energy-efficiency measures, the UK’s entire building stock could become zero-carbon by 2050.

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