Energy union at the heart of this year's sustainable energy week

Written by Dominique Ristori on 16 June 2015 in Opinion
Opinion

Promoting sustainable energy in Europe should start with empowering consumers to make better informed decisions about their energy purchases, says Dominique Ristori.

The 10th edition of EU sustainable energy week (EUSEW) comes at a crucial time, just six months before the COP21 summit in Paris, during which the EU will be pushing for an ambitious agreement to decarbonise the world economy. 

It is also the first EUSEW since the launch of the energy union - our strategy to provide Europe's citizens and businesses with secure, competitive and sustainable energy. 

Two key themes in particular stand out for me this year: renewable energy and energy efficiency. Both are key components of the energy union and will be central to any agreement in Paris.


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Almost half of the world's renewable electricity capacity is in the EU, while renewables represented more than 15 per cent of our energy consumption in 2014 and almost 26 per cent of our electricity. That's good, but we are even more ambitious: by 2030 we want renewables to make up at least 27 per cent of our energy consumption. 

Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker nailed his colours to the mast from his first day in office - the EU should be the world leader in renewable energy.

If we can achieve that, we will not only go a long way to cutting emissions by 40 per cent by 2030 - as we have committed to - but this will also help boost economic growth and jobs. 

The renewable energy sector employs over one million people and generates €130bn a year. We can well and truly say that while Europe is good at renewables, renewables are even better for Europe. 

And the same can be said about energy efficiency. In the last five years alone, energy efficient products have saved us €100bn and avoided around 360 million tonnes of CO2 emissions.

But while energy efficiency is truly the most sustainable energy source that we have, we are only really scratching the surface of its potential. Around three quarters of EU housing is energy inefficient and heating and cooling remain the largest sources of energy demand in Europe. 

Refurbishment of existing buildings is a key part of the solution, but this requires massive investment.

Energy union is the political project by which we can unlock the full potential of renewable energy and energy efficiency in Europe. 

This means also investing in research and innovation in order to develop the right framework for renewables. 

For energy efficiency, it means looking at the 'energy efficiency first' principle and simplifying access to existing financing to make buildings, transport and products more energy efficient.

But more importantly, our vision is of an energy union with citizens at its core. And that is why this year; EUSEW looks at the role of consumers in sustainable energy which, until recently, has been underestimated within the energy sector.

This must change if we want people to lead the way towards more efficient and sustainable patterns of consumption. Today's consumers want to know everything about what they buy. The energy consumer is just as active as the high street shopper checking the label on their clothes or 'best before' dates on their food. 

We need to support them in making sustainable choices and we need to develop a 'new deal for consumers' to allow them to make informed choices when they buy a new television or dishwasher. 

The bottom line is that consumers should be empowered to fully control their individual consumption, lower their bills and benefit from smart technologies.

EUSEW will be about bringing together all the different players, from policymakers to consumers, to see how we can achieve that together. It will be about sharing experience between energy experts, researchers, academics, politicians, businesses, private consumers and civil society engaged in helping to meet the EU's energy and climate goals.

But EUSEW is also a celebration of those people that are already doing it. Look out for your local 'energy day' organised throughout June across Europe to showcase the best in sustainable energy. 

I am personally looking forward to this year's energy awards, which will reward the most inspirational sustainable energy projects in the EU. The fact that there were more applicants than ever before shows that we are on the right path. 

I am excited to welcome you all to EUSEW 2015 to celebrate their success and help Europe to lead the way in sustainable energy in this most crucial year.

 

About the author

Dominique Ristori is director general of the European commission's DG energy

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