July 17, 2014
By Adam White, Research Coordinator at WWF European Policy Office’s Climate and Energy Unit
The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal.
When it comes to European targets for greenhouse gas emissions, renewable energy, and energy efficiency, every percentage point is closely modelled and examined. The esoteric target of 27% renewable energy is the product of European Commission analysis on contributions to reach the (inadequate) 40% emissions cut by 2030.
A separate review of Energy Efficiency, still in draft form, looked at energy savings of up to 40%, as called for by Parliament and NGOs, and while it did examine 28%, 30 and 35%, found greater benefits to the higher end.
Unfortunately, such dedicated number gazing sometimes clashes with politics, or circumstance, or – as in the case of the 2030 energy efficiency target – both.
The higher energy efficiency numbers are intimidating to a Commission that’s afraid of doing battle with difficult Member States, and contradict its earlier 2030 framework review (the one done prior to the recognition by all concerned that efficiency is crucial to energy security).
Never fear, because some Commissioners have cooked up a solution: simply ‘match’ the efficiency target to the renewables target – 27%/27%. Neat and parallel (and more than an echo of Commissioner Oettinger’s earlier 30/30/30 rhetoric). Sadly, it is just not as simple as that. However similar the numbers seem on paper – in reality they mean very different things.
The renewables target applies to the share of final energy use – the proportion of renewable energy we get when we switch on lights. On the other hand, the efficiency target applies to cuts in primary energy use below a baseline projection – so it reflects the reduction in the amount of fuel used in the EU compared to expectations absent the applicable policy.
These are completely different notions. 27% in no way equals 27%.
The renewable energy target and the efficiency target interact in complex ways. You can reduce the EU’s consumption of fuel, and therefore help to meet the efficiency target, by increasing renewable energy. This is because renewable energy technologies convert their energy inputs (sun, wind) more efficiently than traditional power plants convert coal and gas into electricity. The converse is also true, you can help meet the renewables target by boosting efficiency, since the less total energy you use, the easier it is for a higher proportion of that total to be met by renewables.
These are all considerations that the number crunchers pay close attention to, but which their bosses seem willing to overlook in the interests of symmetry and expediency. And like a heart bypass candidate who can’t resist another double cheese hamburger, the Commission has decided to ignore the consequences of their bad decision: a 27% energy efficiency target actually represents a slowdown of current efforts, and would put in jeopardy the improved health and billions of euros saved every year that efficiency delivers.
Interesting how a Commission which is almost 70% male, and 100% white is apparently only interested in equality when it comes to plucking numbers out of the air.