Energy Efficiency: A crucial policy to fulfil our climate commitments

Increasing Energy Efficiency is a clear ‘no-lose’ policy option, both for economic and environmental reasons, to the ever present need to meet our environmental targets.

Reducing our energy use means lower energy costs for consumers, it means less dependence on external energy suppliers, and it means a reduced carbon footprint by cutting our Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions.

Furthermore, the jobs created in the construction sector by increasing the demand for energy efficient building renovations makes it evident that benefits of striving for a more energy efficient system are multiple.

Our commitments under the Paris agreement are clear, crucial, and non-negotiable.

We simply must ensure that this target is met and that Europe takes a leadership role in the fight against climate change.

It is therefore imperative that we are ambitious in our 2030 goals, and energy efficiency has a key role to play in this.

The EU building stock represents a clear opportunity to make big strides towards improving the efficiency of our energy use, and action is badly needed.

75% of our buildings are currently considered inefficient  this represents an enormous amount of avoidable emissions and, in very simple terms, an enormous waste of energy.

Buildings account for 40% of final energy consumption in Europe; at a time when we are striving to make significant cuts to emissions, it is not acceptable to have such a high level of inefficiency in a sector that is responsible for such a large proportion of them.

The recent agreement on the Energy Performance of Buildings (EPBD) is an important one in this regard, and I commend my EPP Group colleague Bendt Bendtsen MEP for his tremendous work and dedication over the past year to get the file over the line.

The agreement reached in the EBPD strikes the right balance between being cost-effective for citizens, and seeking to address the huge efficiency problem in our building stock that I have mentioned above.

The provisions in the Directive will improve the efficiency of our buildings and encourage renovation by requiring the Member States to each establish a long-term building renovation strategy and ensure that we move towards a highly efficient and decarbonised building stock by 2050.

These plans will be crucial to the meeting of our targets for 2030 and beyond, and I encourage Member States to push aside the natural tendency towards caution and to be ambitious in setting these plans.

Energy efficiency is one of the cheapest and most effective ways of cutting emissions, while at the same time delivering new jobs and potential for businesses to grow.

The EBPD, in combination with the revised Energy Efficiency Directive, which is now being negotiated and will set out the overall energy efficiency target for 2030, will be crucial in the coming years to ensure that the required emission reductions are achieved.

For a number of reasons, investment in energy efficiency has not been as high as we would like it to be.

The relative longer payback time of an Energy Efficiency investment, along with difficulties in accessing finance, and indeed the general lack of awareness of the benefits these investments can bring in the long term, has hindered progress on this issue.

It is clear that we have a problem in Europe in that investments such as these, which are sensible and economical, are still not being made.

Despite the various EU funding instruments available, with their higher perceived investment risk, investments in energy efficiency just do not seem to be as attractive as they might be and as a result, such an undertaking may seem not worthwhile to the typical homeowner.

Something that can really help this issue, and we are seeing examples of it pop up around Europe now, is the idea of an on-bill repayment scheme.

In this system, a customer would be able to have the energy efficiency work undertaken on their home, often without an upfront cost, while the payment is made over time through the utility bill.

I think these types of schemes need to be made more available and we need to better promote them.

In Ireland, for example, a recent study showed that almost half of Irish consumers would consider taking out a loan to pay for energy efficiency improvements.

This pay-as-you-save idea is an important one to generate interest in such investments.

Member States, as part of their building renovation plans, should work to ensure that such possibilities are made available to their citizens.

In terms of mobilising finance, since it was announced in November 2014, I have been extremely interested in how the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) could be used for energy efficiency investments, particularly in buildings.

For this reason I am excited by the new EFSI-backed EIB funding for an Energy Efficiency project in France.

Under this project, funds put up to trigger the needed investment for energy efficiency renovations for private homes in France on a large scale.

Regions in France will set up specialised companies to provide assistance and packaged solutions to homeowners for the retrofitting of their homes, and it is reported that up to 40,000 flats and houses will be able to benefit.

I truly hope this initiative is a resounding success as I think it could provide the blueprint for similar projects across Europe.

If EFSI is taken full advantage of by Member states, the potential benefits are endless.

I think this model, the grouping together of smaller schemes for funding under EFSI, has the possibility of truly empowering citizens to address their own Energy Efficiency levels thereby benefitting themselves and the environment in the long run, both economically and environmentally.

I hope to see Ireland as a key player in utilising this model in the not too distant future.

I think it is clear that employing active Energy Efficiency measures is a key way forward if we are to meet our 2030 targets.

At a time when Europe seeks to lead the way in climate ambition, there is no better time than now to highlight to our citizens this crucial topic and the important role it has in the fight against Climate Change.