Energy efficiency is a key strategic priority for the EU. The combined actions of consuming energy in a cost-effective way and minimising energy waste will be essential to reduce our primary energy consumption and solve the energy trilemma (security of supply, competitive prices and sustainability). Public awareness about the importance of energy efficiency is a key way to turn citizens from consumers to active agents in the energy transition.
Energy consumption is essential for economic, social and technological development, but it is the cause of negative impacts globally and locally in the form of climate change, poor air quality, degradation of soils and desertification, resource depletion and noise pollution.
In addition, the inefficient use of energy creates unnecessary operating costs at end-use level, increased energy imports, higher foreign exchange pressures and reduced availability of scarce energy resources at the national level. With the current high-energy prices and the war in Ukraine, there is also renewed impetus to ensure that the European Union becomes independent from Russian fossil fuel imports as soon as possible.
It is therefore of utmost importance, at a community and national level, to set up policies that deal with the energy 'trilemma', that is, guaranteeing energy security, ensuring access to energy at competitive prices, and promoting environmentally sustainable energy use.
WHAT DO WE MEAN BY ENERGY EFFICIENCY?
Generally, when we refer to energy efficiency we refer to consuming energy in a cost-effective way and minimising energy waste. Energy efficiency can be described in terms of the ratio of energy output for a given energy input, for example, the amount of mechanical energy produced by an electric motor relative to the electrical energy input.
It is common to distinguish between intrinsic losses, also called ‘technical losses’, which are unavoidable and depend on thermodynamic and physical laws, and avoidable losses, which result from poor design, maintenance and operation of systems, such as leaks and inappropriate behaviour of consumers.
Increasing energy efficiency at every level of the supply/demand chain means reducing energy losses, thus reducing the primary energy resources consumed to give the required output. Alongside environmental benefits, doing so saves money and boosts energy independence.
A CENTRAL TENET OF EU ENERGY POLICY
These outcomes were a key consideration when the European Union launched the RePowerEU plan in May 2022 to accelerate the clean energy transition and reduce reliance on Russian fossil fuels. The plan aimed to cut their use by two-thirds by the end of 2022 and 100% by 2030. Energy savings are one of the plan’s three central pillars, alongside diversification of energy supplies and accelerated roll-out of renewable energy. Within the EU ‘Save Energy’ plan are two main objectives:
Achieve immediate energy savings through voluntary choices;
Accelerate and strengthen structural mid to long-term energy efficiency measures.
In the short term, opportunities to reduce energy consumption while the current crisis endures would come from voluntary choices. The key sectors for significant short-term savings are heating in households and services, transport and mobility, with some additional short-term potential in industry sectors. The advantage of actions in these areas is that they have an immediate impact and generally require little – if any – upfront investment.
As summarised by Ms Juul Jørgensen, the European Commission Director-General for Energy, ‘Energy efficiency is an area where everyone can make a difference. This also has the potential to provide considerable savings to individual consumers at this time of high wholesale energy prices.’
PUBLIC AWARENESS AND NEW TECHNOLOGY: WE ALL HAVE A PART TO PLAY
This position is reflected in a growing movement to turn citizens from mere energy consumers to active players in the energy system. Boosting public awareness will be key to achieving such a goal. In the ‘Playing my part’ report, the International Energy Agency and the European Commission outlined a set of steps that people can take to reduce their energy use.
The report also outlines the key actions that individuals can take to save energy, as well as detailing what can be done by employers and policymakers to accelerate changes. It is hoped that by raising awareness about these straightforward changes, a potential 220 million barrels of oil a year could be saved each year, and around 17 billion cubic metres of natural gas savings: enough to heat 20 million homes.
This boost in public awareness will not take place in isolation. New digital technologies and energy data sharing and analysis will also be crucial on the individual and system levels. Digital innovations – tools, technologies and processes, such as Energy Management Systems (EMS), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Advanced Data Analytics, Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices, smart sensors are inspiring energy suppliers, transmission and distribution companies, and demand sectors (buildings, industry, transport and other), to establish new business models allowing to generate, deliver and consume energy in a more sustainable way. By harnessing data to identify who needs energy and when, it is becoming possible to deliver it at the right time and at the lowest cost.
Technologies such as smart meters, paired with initiatives that compare energy behaviours within neighbourhoods and communities, also allow citizens to better understand their usage empowering them to make changes and become more proactive.
Energy efficiency can therefore be seen as a crucial pathway for involving the public in the green transition. By boosting their awareness of the measures they can take to reduce consumption, citizens can experience immediate benefits in terms of cost savings, while also taking on a more active role than as mere consumers.
About the author:
Young leaders in Energy and Sustainability (YES-Europe), created through an initiative of the EPFL University of Lausanne in Switzerland, brought together 50 students from nine European countries for the first annual conference organised in May 2016 to connect and find meaningful ways to make a difference in the energy field. Since then, YES-Europe grew internationally to have an impact at the European level. YES-Europe offers a platform with the mission of catalysing the energy transition by creating an environment where youth are given a space to develop ideas, take on responsibility, and build their local community and act for change.
Disclaimer: This article is a contribution from a partner. All rights reserved.
Neither the European Commission nor any person acting on behalf of the Commission is responsible for the use that might be made of the information in the article. The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) only and should not be considered as representative of the European Commission’s official position.
- Publication date
- 21 March 2023
- European Climate, Infrastructure and Environment Executive Agency