Fifty years ago, the 1973 energy shock caused Europeans to realise for the first time the importance of energy efficiency. Since then, the reasons for ensuring that we waste as little of the precious resource have only grown stronger – not least that, still reliant on fossil energy, we now understand that the more fossil fuel we burn the faster the planet becomes uninhabitable. Furthermore, inefficiency means greater dependency on imports, which can weaken national security.
Increasing energy efficiency has, since the turn of the century, been a key policy ambition of the European Union. Some progress has been made, but it is uneven and insufficient, in part because EU money for increasing efficiency is not always spent wisely. And the problem is most acute in Central and Eastern Europe, where more energy is used, per capita, to produce less.
If the states of this region were to take urgent action to accelerate their improvements in energy efficiency, the benefits would be manifold: it would boost innovation, improve health, reduce energy poverty, increase disposable income and strengthen the overall resilience of the country. Ultimately it would support the economic and social convergence which is one of the EU’s raisons d’être.
In this analysis Popov – now a fellow of the European Climate Foundation – recommends some concrete actions to drive the change needed. Among these are that the Commission should oversee the drafting of national emergency energy saving plans, and that there should be a regional financial platform for energy efficiency. The latter would facilitate much needed investment in energy saving improvements to buildings, transport and industry. He offers further policy ideas in the fields of finance, regulation, industry and education, and urges their adoption: it is time for decisive action.
Following the publication of Popov’s analysis, SIEPS brought together policy experts, academics and practitioners for a roundtable discussion on energy use and the wider question of resource efficiency in the EU. A written summary of the discussion can be downloaded here.