Energy poverty is the topic on everyone’s lips but words are not matched by facts. Unlike other hyped up energy solutions, the combination of energy efficiency, renewables and deep building renovation, offers the greatest potential to decarbonise the EU economy and protect citizens from volatile fossil gas prices.
Rising energy costs have become one of European citizens’ most urgent concerns.
In another week of record-breaking electricity prices, the 27 EU energy ministers meet today in Brussels to discuss measures and policies that will be crucial to push our energy system towards a cleaner and more resilient model. Those game-changing energy policies are the Energy Efficiency Directive and the Renewable Energy Directive.
This legislative pairing, aimed at boosting energy-saving and renewables, could drive full decarbonisation of the EU’s energy system by 2040 and protect citizens from energy price fluctuations, if ambitious and well-articulated.
They are also the best antidote to the siren calls who argue that we need gas and nuclear for the energy transition. Yet our Paris Agreement Compatible energy model proves that the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy can be technically carried out without the need of investing billions in these wrongly called ‘bridge energies’.
Energy poverty and overconsumption
Over 50 million Europeans currently live in energy poverty, having to choose between heating their homes and having food on the table, a number that is set to skyrocket this winter if Member States do not choose the right policy toolbox. Furthermore, energy accounts for 75% of the EU’s GHG emissions
Getting to the root of the energy price issue, there is no doubt that the EU’s heavy fossil-based energy mix, and its dependency on fossil fuel imports in a global market led by speculation and volatility, are the main cause of our soaring energy bills. Moreover, the cost of the kilowatt-hour in the EU energy market is set by the highest-priced energy source, which nowadays is fossil gas and coal.
Despite this well-known economic and regulatory context, some EU leaders are also trying to instrumentalise this situation to blame the European Green Deal and the Fit for 55 Package – which is so far not even agreed upon and will not be enforced for at least another two years – in order to claim EU funding for non-clean energy such as gas and nuclear.
Paradoxically, the European Green Deal has proven to be the best tool to implement the most effective solution we have against energy poverty: energy efficiency.
More than seven out of ten European buildings are energy inefficient, which has been identified as the root cause of energy poverty and overconsumption. The poor energy performance of European housing stock makes the building sector the single largest energy consumer in the EU and one of the biggest greenhouse gas emitters, accounting for one-third of total EU emissions.
On top of this, energy poverty has a female face. Research shows that women and women-led households are disproportionately affected by energy poverty. Currently, there are no policies or measures within the EU that directly address the nexus between gender and energy poverty.
Member States have never been in a better position to tackle this energy issue since the European Green Deal provides the necessary regulation, financing and technical assistance to deliver deep renovation programmes that prioritise energy-poor households and their gender dimension. If they pursue the Renovation Wave’s objective of the deep renovating of 35 million homes by 2030, their domestic heating demand will reduce by 60%.
What is more, if the Renovation Wave includes a whole life-carbon emissions perspective and measures to accelerate the transition from gas boilers to renewable heating, it can play a game-changer role, turning inefficient buildings into powerful allies for the battle against energy poverty and climate change. But once again, EU governments are turning a deaf ear to this battery of high-reaching energy measures.
Lack of national binding targets
The combination of the financial instruments under the Next Generation EU recovery package and the regulatory framework of the Fit For 55 package is a historic opportunity to address the climate emergency, which cannot wait if we want to have any chance of meeting the 1.5C temperature goal under the Paris Agreement.
The Commission’s proposal on the revision of the Energy Efficiency Directive (EED) and the Renewable Energy Directive (RED) strengthens the current EU energy policy by increasing the targets for 2030. However, these targets are still below the level of energy savings and renewables achievable and required to enable the transition to the fully decarbonised energy system needed for climate neutrality. To be aligned with the 1.5C trajectory, by 2030 the EU needs to set a renewable energy target of at least 50% in gross final energy consumption, and a target of 45% for energy efficiency.
On top of that, Member States are opposed to having binding renewable energy and energy targets at the national level, which will obstruct the full potential of these key instruments to drive the transitions and make the most of the funds available.
“The Governance framework that regulates Member States’ voluntary contributions to the EU targets has proven too weak to be the game-changer we need and has left much room for putting the burden on each other’s garden. Unsurprisingly, the Fit for 55 Package does not include the revision of the Governance Regulation and therefore perpetuates the “status quo”Barbara Mariani, EEB Policy Manager for Climate.
On the renewables side, the proposed binding targets for heating and cooling and decarbonisation plans at the national level are very welcome. However, in district heating, where a switch from fossil to renewable energy is urgently needed, a 2.1% annual renewables increase is not enough to be in line with full decarbonisation by 2040.
Policymakers should bear in mind that the cleanest energy is the one that is not consumed. In a letter to EU Energy Ministers, we reminded that a rapid mobilisation of energy savings potentials, through accelerating deep renovation of buildings and modernisation of industrial production processes, and a swift ramping up of domestic renewable energy use could lead Europe to reach climate neutrality by 2040.