Thursday, 1 March 2012

EU Energy Efficiency Directive – why we, and the IT industry, need it

Hopefully you will have heard of the EU’s 20-20-20 plan to address climate change. There’s three objectives:

  • reducing carbon emissions by 20% by 2020, compared with 1990 levels

  • ensuring that 20% of energy used in Europe comes from renewable sources

  • reducing energy use by 20% through energy efficiency measures.

What’s odd about the plan is that while the emissions reduction and renewable energy targets are backed up by EU Directives that are legally binding on member states, the energy efficiency aim is not. In the case of carbon emissions, the EU Emissions Trading Scheme covers 10,000 heavy industrial plants across Europe that account for almost half of all European emissions. There are also binding targets for the use of renewables, including the 10% biofuel usage, with different targets for different EU countries depending on development to date.

For energy efficiency? Nothing except the 20% target - you would have thought that becoming more energy efficiency would underpin everything else. Not surprisingly, while the emissions and renewable targets are on track, the EU is expected to achieve only 9-10% of its energy efficiency target by 2020.




Anyway, this omission is now starting to be addressed. On Tuesday a European Parliament committee approved (by 51 votes to 6) a plan to implement a binding framework for energy efficiency across Europe. Among the requirements of the legislation would be that public buildings would need to achieve 2.5% energy savings through renovations by the end of 2013, energy companies would have to spend 1.5% of sales on helping customers save energy, there would be energy performance requirements for public sector housing, and energy audits every four years for large enterprises.

The only measure that UK government clearly supports is the 1.5% supplier obligation, although this is unlikely to ensure the energy efficiency target is reached. The UK’s position is that effort to date should be taken into account, but that’s going to limit progress. Anyway, also on Tuesday there was a panel session at the House of Commons to discuss the legislation and to encourage support from the UK government in getting the legislation through the various other stages before it can be adopted across Europe.

The session was organised by the European Alliance to Save Energy (EU-ASE) and included its CEO, Monica Frassoni, as well as Caroline Lucas, the only Green MP in the UK. Also speaking were representatives of building insulation companies and Sumir Karayi, the CEO of IT energy efficiency company 1E (it was 1E, a founding member of EU-ASE, that invited me along).

It was an interesting discussion and a reassuring number of people turned up – the room was crammed. The panel discussions raised many reasons why the UK should support the legislation, including the fact that it helps to achieve energy security – the less we use the less we need – it’s the most cost-effective action to take, the money saved in energy costs could be re-invested in the renewable energy infrastructure (including smart grids) and it creates jobs in implementing the measures.

Ed Davey, the coalition government’s recently appointed Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, popped in to say his piece and answer a few questions. He made the right noises, but much of it surrounded by ifs and buts.


There are many reasons why the UK government should support this legislation but it seems to me to be intuitively obvious that if you’re concerned about how much energy the country needs, what we are spending on it and what it’s doing to our environment, then the obvious answer is to use less. Why it’s not already a legally binding commitment across Europe is a mystery to me.

It’s interesting to note, though, that much of what the IT industry has been doing in recent years sets an example. Data centre power costs are high and in some areas it’s increasingly difficult to ensure sufficient supplies. The industry has responded by addressing energy use through better designed equipment, virtualisation, more efficient cooling, hierarchical storage, and many other energy saving actions. The race for ever better Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) ratios in data centres makes the point.

And there’s much more that the industry can contribute to energy efficiency across the economy as a whole, not just in building energy management systems, but also through things like smart grids, more efficient transport solutions – all the things I have been bleating on about for years now.

The EU Energy Efficiency Directive is something I would hope, and expect, that IT companies would be loudly supporting. It’s the right thing to do, the industry has the means to help make it happen, and there is much more that IT can contribute to energy efficiency in the long run.

© The Green IT Review

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