Putting energy efficiency first is ‘just a slogan’

National governments throughout Europe should regard any commitment to put energy efficiency policy first as just a slogan, according to a confidential document prepared by the Bulgarian energy minister.

Bulgaria, the EU’s poorest country, currently holds the presidency of the European Union.

The document, originating from the Council of the EU – where member governments meet – proposes that countries should not be obliged to give energy efficiency projects priority over fossil fuel infrastructure projects – even though these are more harmful to the climate.

According to the Bulgarians, most governments understand ‘energy efficiency first’ to be “more as a slogan”, adding that they should prefer to honour the “cost-efficiency first” principle.

The Efficiency First concept does not elevate energy savings above all other energy investments. But it does require considering efficiency first, before committing to investments in costly fuels and supply-side infrastructure. Efficiency should be prioritised whenever economic impact assessments reveal that demand-side resources offer better value. In Europe, the International Energy Agency estimates that 76 per cent of the additional emissions reductions by 2030 can be achieved most cost-effectively by increasing energy efficiency.

The Bulgarian paper raises questions about how promises and speeches on achieving an Energy Union can ever be put into practice.

According to the European Commission, reducing energy consumption by using it more efficiently – for example by insulating old buildings – is a core priority. The Commission has called this ‘energy efficiency first’ principle, and called on national governments to view energy efficiency as an energy source in and of itself. The Commission’s strategy paper Clean Energy for all Europeans calls the principle one of the strategy’s three main goals.

This has been fully endorsed by an overwhelming majority in the European Parliament. MEPs voted to lay down in law that the phrase means “the prioritisation, in all energy planning, policy and investment decisions, of measures to make energy demand and energy supply more efficient.”

“Energy efficiency is the most universally available source of energy,” the original paper said. “Putting energy efficiency first reflects the fact that the cheapest and cleanest source of energy is the energy that does not need to be produced or used,” it added.

“The idea is to put the energy efficiency projects in the same level-playing field as other energy infrastructure project in terms of financing opportunities and mechanisms.”

The Bulgarian government will relinquish the presidency of the EU at the end of June.

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