Ambitious thinking needed for EU's sustainable energy investments

The European investment bank’s local sustainable energy investments can give a lift to the EU’s regions and cities, writes Pé Verhoeven.

By Pé Verhoeven

07 Oct 2013

The specialist support from the European investment bank (EIB) under the European local energy assistance programme – Elena – has already helped a number of cities with their sustainable energy investments. From Bristol in the UK, to Milan in Italy, some 26 cities, regions and provinces across Europe have already signed up.

Urban areas account for around 70 per cent of the energy consumption of the EU, yet the potential for sustainable energy-related investments has until now remained largely untapped. The problem is not so much availability of finance, but lack of knowhow or capacity to implement large-scale projects.

"Elena aims to encourage authorities to think ambitiously and showcase energy efficiency and renewable projects that can be replicated across the EU​"

The Elena technical assistance facility is a joint EIB-European commission initiative to help local authorities prepare energy efficiency or renewable energy projects, improving the chances that their plans will attract external finance. It is a good example of how limited budget money can be leveraged with loans to support EU policy objectives.

“The programme will help generate up to 1000 new jobs in the construction and environmental technologies sectors. It should also kick-start and attract much bigger investment,” says Bristol city council leader Barbara Janke. Bristol is the first local authority in the UK outside London to receive a grant from the EIB under Elena.

The €3.1m will help to meet most of the costs of developing an energy services company and investment programme. “In practical terms this will lead to cheaper bills for thousands of residents through investment in energy saving measures. It will also mean that as a city we will be generating our own energy, primarily through a major investment in solar energy generation”, Janke adds.

As part of the solar schools programme, the city council is installing solar energy systems at no cost. Schools will also be installing energy efficient lighting and insulation and rolling out energy awareness activities with staff and pupils.

The Bristol investment programme will further be focused on improving the energy efficiency of over 6000 homes and public buildings, installing over 7000 renewable energy generating systems in homes and public buildings, and developing small district heating networks where several buildings are heated from a single, efficient boiler.

In the province of Milan, a large energy efficiency potential in public buildings was long held back in budget-constrained municipalities lacking the technical capacity to develop a flow of projects. Thanks to the Elena support programme, buildings have now been chosen for energy refurbishment and preparations for the programme, such as tenders, energy audits and agreements with expert consultants are underway.

Total investment in the Milan metropolitan area will amount to some €90m. “This year, we took a major step with the signing of a €13m contract, of which the lion’s share is covered by a grant from the EIB,” explains Guido Podesta, president of the province of Milan. “This will allow us to go ahead with the refurbishment of 98 public buildings, mainly schools, located in 16 municipalities, and will lead to a reduction in energy costs of at least 35 per cent, which is a huge improvement for us.”

Elena funds can be used for structuring programmes, business plans and energy audits, preparing tendering procedures and contracts, and paying for project implementation units. Elena aims to encourage authorities to think ambitiously and showcase energy efficiency and renewable projects that can be replicated across the EU.