Sustainable energies: The easy way to help the economy

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Sustainable energies: The easy way to help the economy

By Ron Wit – Dutch Foundation Nature and Environment

While European leaders are desperately seeking a means of stimulating economic growth, they are simultaneously overlooking the opportunity to save 90 billion euros.

The total energy bill for European businesses and consumers could be reduced by this amount annually, if only those same leaders were to proceed to tighten the energy standards for electrical appliances more swiftly. Research has shown that this would save the average household 280 euros a year. Furthermore, it would generate one million new jobs throughout Europe.

The European Commission is considering a review of the “Ecodesign Directive”, which dates back to 2005. This directive sets the minimum requirements for the energy consumption levels of forty appliances, and therefore has an influence on over half of Europe’s energy consumption.

The directive nevertheless remains one of the most underestimated instruments for more efficient energy consumption throughout Europe. Even policymakers in the energy sector simply shrug their shoulders when asked what level of energy savings the directive might yield.

The answer is as follows: if the directive were to set more ambitious energy standards than is currently the case, then the European demand for electricity and gas would decline by 17 and 10 per cent respectively. The atmosphere would also benefit as a result. 400 megatons less of CO2 would be released into the air by 2020.

This is comparable to the total CO2 reduction that the EU Emissions Trading System is expected to yield, which is twice the total CO2 emission of the Netherlands. Those policy-making officials and politicians therefore need to take a refresher course.

Standards already outdated

China and the United States have proven sharper in assessing the possible economic and environmental benefits of tighter energy standards. They employ ten times more civil servants than the European Union in the implementation of energy standards for appliances. And this is not without good reason. An American study revealed that every dollar spent on additional civil servants involved in this policy would yield end-users energy savings around 60,000 dollars.

Due to a lack of capacity at the European Commission, however, it can take up to five years to actually implement an energy standard. And the world just goes on turning in the meantime. The standards are therefore already outdated by the time they are implemented.

For instance, Sharp recently launched a television set that was twice as efficient as the latest standard to be implemented required. Swifter procedures therefore need to be adopted in order to implement more stringent energy standards.

Any European leader with common sense?

The tightening of energy standards for electrical appliances would render the European economy more competitive, in stark contrast to popular belief. Whatever the case, non-EU businesses – including Chinese manufacturers – would also have to comply with the more stringent standards if they were to continue to supply their products on the European market.

Electronics firms such as Philips actually view tighter energy standards as a positive development. This would render their products more appealing to their customers due to their efficiency. While the purchase price of a TV, for instance, would be raised by just over 10 euros, the customers would on average save this amount increased by a factor of four times during the service life of the appliance.

There is nevertheless always one European manufacturer per product group that either can’t be bothered or is incapable of making the additional effort required to make products more efficient. These dinosaurs’ efforts in lobbying against more stringent standards are, however, preventing Europe’s citizens and their fellow businesses from reaping the considerable economic benefits of the Ecodesign Directive.

It is nevertheless encouraging that global electronics firms like Philips, Electrolux, Camfil Farr and the Bosch Siemens Group are already urging European nations to swiftly tighten their energy standards for household appliances.

It is clearly apparent that Europe’s interests would be better served by investing in the development and manufacture of clean technology, than by continuing to spend more money on importing energy (300 billion euros on oil imports alone in 2011).

Green growth would also create jobs, which Europe’s legions of unemployed youngsters so desperately need. What we need now is for a European leader to emerge who recognises that in energy terms, there is plenty of low-hanging fruit there for the taking.

Translated from the Dutch by Kelly Boom . In NRC Handelsblad, 9 August 2012

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