UCL Energy Institute


EU Energy Efficiency target should be more ambitious and legally binding say researchers

23 July 2014


The European Commission’s proposed energy efficiency target announced today is insufficient and should remain at the level of 40% originally considered say a leading group of researchers from the UK Research Council’s End Use Energy Demand (EUED) Centres (i).

The adoption of a legally binding target of 40% energy savings by 2030 (ii) is necessary to improve energy security and reduce the EU’s dependence on imported fuels, to unlock the economic and social benefits of improved energy efficiency and to reinforce the EU’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions and preventing dangerous climate change. A 40% target should be cost-effectively achievable with currently available technologies (iii).

A 40% target is also consistent with the current rate of improvement in energy efficiency across the EU - while less ambitious targets would imply a weakening of political commitment. Multiple studies have shown how technologies and strategies are available to achieve this scale of reduction without imposing a burden on the economy. For example: cars are currently available that are 40% more fuel-efficient than the current EU standard, and changes in product design, lightweighting and switching from goods to services can reduce emissions from materials and products by more than 40%.

The potential benefits of a legally binding 40% target include:

* Reducing EU gas imports by up to 40% compared to 2010 - approximately equivalent to current imports of Russian gas. (iv)

* Reducing household energy bills through improved energy efficiency.

* Lowering the incidence of fuel poverty and reducing the health effects of poor quality housing.

* Reducing the required scale of investment and speed of roll out of renewable energy and associated infrastructure.

* Ensuring the political momentum to develop and implement an effective mix of policies to deliver energy and savings.

* Providing confidence to investors in the long-term financial benefits of energy efficiency.

* Driving innovation in energy-efficient products and thereby opening up global market opportunities for EU industry.

Why a demand reduction target and not just the implementation of individual policies?

Improved energy efficiency is widely recognised as the cheapest and fastest way of reducing carbon emissions while at the same time delivering other economic, social and environmental benefits - such as improved productivity, human health, air quality and energy security. Without an overall energy efficiency target, it is unlikely that policies required to unlock these benefits will be adequately implemented – and the benefits will not be achieved through carbon pricing alone. An aggregate target helps ensure that energy savings in one area are not offset by increased energy demand in another (‘rebound effects’), and that efficiency gains are not overwhelmed by increasing use of technologies as part of future patterns of home living, work and travel. A legally binding target also helps ensure that progress is monitored, action is taken and results achieved. Such a target can coexist with an effective EU Emissions Trading Scheme, provided the appropriate steps are taken to ensure a minimum carbon price.

Mr Andrew Smith of the Centre for Energy Epidemiology comments:

“Technically and economically, a 40% reduction is within our grasp. Setting a legally-binding target would send a clear message to the market and to the world that the EU will provide leadership and a positive market environment for energy efficiency and decarbonisation.

Dr. Steve Sorrell of the Centre on Innovation and Energy Demand comments:

“Recent events in the Ukraine have focused attention on energy security and the risks of relying too heavily on individual suppliers. We need strategies that reduce those risks while at the same time protecting the global climate. Improved energy efficiency must come top of the list - and must be backed up by political commitment in the form of ambitious, legally binding targets."

Professor John Barrett of the UK INDEMAND Centre comments:

“The technologies and options exist to deliver a substantial reduction in the energy consumption of the EU. We need a target to frame these initiatives. Without a target on energy demand reduction, it is almost impossible to envisage a policy package that can avoid an above two degree temperature rise.”

Professor Savvas Tassou of the Centre for Sustainable Energy Use in Food Chains comments:

“Progress in recent years has demonstrated that significant reductions in energy consumption can be achieved whilst maintaining productivity and quality of life. With further improvements in technology and changes in behaviour a 40% reduction by 2030 is not only desirable but also achievable.”

Professor Bob Critoph of i-STUTE (the Interdisciplinary Centre for the Storage, Upgrading and Transformation of Thermal Energy) comments:

“We have the technology available to reduce energy demand for heating and cooling by 40% or more, improving our energy security and making heating and cooling more affordable for consumers and businesses. However, we are unlikely to see the heating and cooling sector industries invest in the new technologies and products without a clear political lead towards change.”

Professor Gordon Walker of the Dynamics of Energy, Mobility and Demand Centre comments:

“The adoption of a binding commitment to achieve a 40% reduction in energy demand would be a serious injunction for us to consider what energy is being used for and why, and how trends towards greater energy use at home, at work and in moving around can be countered.”


Professor John Barrett from the University of Leeds is available for interview. Please call Rachel Barson, University of Leeds press office, on +44 (0)113 343 4031 / pressoffice@leeds.ac.uk

Notes for Editors 

i. The Research Council's UK Energy Programme has committed over £30 million to the establishment of six End Use Energy Demand Centres, with a further £13 million being committed by industrial partners. The Centres will run for 5 years initially and will work collaboratively to conduct research to help better understand the UK's future energy needs.

 ii This energy savings target is measured against a ‘business as usual’ (BAU) projection of EU energy primary consumption in 2030. This projection was developed for the European Commission in 2007 by the E3M Lab of the National Technical University of Athens, using the PRIMES model. A 40% energy savings target equates to primary energy consumption of 1243 million tonnes of oil equivalent (Mtoe) in 2030, which is 21% below 2012 levels.

 iii See for example the recent analysis by Fraunhofer ISI

 iv See page 51 of the Commission Impact Assessment.