Interview: Marie Donnelly speaks about the new Energy Efficiency Directive and the crucial role of local actors in sustainable energy actions

Originaldonnelly Ms Donnelly, Director of Renewables, Research and Innovation and Energy Efficiency at the European Commission’s DG Energy, speaks to ManagEnergy on the occasion of the 2012 European Sustainable Energy Week. Ms Donnelly highlights sustainable energy policy priorities and recent developments, outlines the role of political, financing and technical initiatives, and announces a public consultation for the future of the Intelligent Energy Europe programme.

The EU has set an ambitious set of climate change objectives as part of its Europe 2020 strategy. Are we on track to deliver on them?

Indeed. In a changing world, we want the EU to become a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy. Energy and climate change are priority areas within this collective effort. By 2020 we want our greenhouse gas emissions 20% lower than in 1990, 20% of our energy to come from renewables, and a 20% increase in energy efficiency.

For the first two objectives, significant steps forward have been made. For instance, the development of renewable energy sources has so far been a success story. This is largely due to the introduction of mandatory targets. In fact, we have moved from a renewable energy share of 8.5% in 2005 to 12.4% in 2010.

As far as energy efficiency is concerned, however, if nothing changes in the coming years, we will achieve only part of our target. This will pose a threat to competitiveness, security of energy supply and our effort to reduce CO2 emissions.

What have been the key policy actions to ensure that we get back on track?   

The recent political agreement on the Energy Efficiency Directive is a big step to fill the current gap. The measures set out in the proposal aim to increase efficiency at all stages of the energy chain: generation, transformation, distribution and, finally, consumption. To a large extent, they focus on the building sector where the potential for savings is greatest. The core provision of the Directive is the obligation for Member States to set up energy saving obligation schemes for utilities, which is a policy tool that proved its effectiveness in those countries, including the UK and France, which apply it already. Other measures include energy audits for large manufacturers, an obligation to provide consumers with billing and metering reflecting their actual consumption, and provisions on a more effective management of the electricity grid.

Getting back on track requires everyone’s active involvement, from public authorities, energy utilities, industry and consumers too.

ManagEnergy’s target base is primarily composed of local and regional energy actors. How can they contribute to these energy efficiency measures, especially in a time of economic crisis?

It is true that the economic crisis has directly affected local and regional authorities. Cities and towns have been the first to experience the effects of the financial meltdown. However, this challenge also brings a unique opportunity to shift priorities and reconsider objectives.

In fact, the Directive proposal sets public authorities at the forefront of action. Central government authorities will lead by example and benefit by buying energy-efficient buildings, products and services, and by refurbishing 3% of their buildings each year to significantly reduce their energy consumption.

Take, for example, RE:FIT; the project that won last year’s ManagEnergy Local Energy Action Award. Through this innovative procurement initiative, public sector organisations appoint an energy service company to install energy efficiency measures in their buildings. The company guarantees a set level of annual energy and cost savings over an agreed payback period. On a practical level, this saves local authorities on their energy and bills, benefits the environment though lower emissions and the EU economy through the creation of new jobs, particularly in building renovation and energy services.

We need such initiatives to be replicated and extended across Europe. For this we count on the creativity, ambition and knowledge of local authorities, energy agencies and other sustainable energy actors at the local and regional level.

To carry out such ambitious efforts local and regional energy actors would need political backing. How does the EU support them?

The Commission is following a multi-level approach to support sustainable energy actions.

Look at the level of the strategic planning. Governments and private investors will only invest in energy if there is a more stable framework that guarantees more predictability. This is why we developed the Energy Roadmap 2050. The Roadmap points out how decarbonisation and energy security and competitiveness can be reconciled over the long term.

Also at the political level, substantial support is provided through initiatives such as the Covenant of Mayors. The success of the Covenant has shown the importance of multi-level governance in the fight against climate change and the need to link political leadership from the EU with strong local and regional commitments.

And then how are political commitments translated into concrete actions? Are there technical and financial tools available?

Once a clear policy framework is available and a political commitment is in place, the next phase is implementation.

At the financing level, for example, facilities such as ELENA and MLEI, both financed through Intelligent Energy Europe, enable the mobilisation of funds for local sustainable energy actions by covering a share of the cost for technical support that is necessary to prepare, implement and finance the investment programme,

At the technical level, long-standing initiatives such as ManagEnergy provide capacity building, training, useful information and actively foster networking, project development and experience exchange in a results-oriented way. Effectively, ManagEnergy helps transform sustainable energy policies into real changes that take place on the ground.

Several of the initiatives you just mentioned are closely associated with the Intelligent Energy Europe programme. Given its widely acknowledged impact, how will the programme evolve in the future?

Since its launch in 2003, the Intelligent Energy Europe programme has been creating better conditions for a more sustainable energy future in areas as varied as renewable energy, energy-efficient buildings, industry, consumer products and transport.

As I mentioned earlier, we live in a changing world. Policy and action areas are more interconnected than ever. Market uptake, awareness raising and capacity building are interlinked with research and innovation, technology and regional development.

Therefore, we are launching this week a public consultation on the Intelligent Energy Europe programme in view of the upcoming multiannual financial framework (2014-2020). Through the public consultation, everyone can express their opinion, address their needs and challenges and have their say on the future of the programme.

I invite all ManagEnergy stakeholders, including public authorities, energy agencies and other local and regional energy actors to participate!

Background information

Marie C. Donnelly is currently the Director of Renewables, Research and Innovation and Energy Efficiency at the European Commission’s Directorate General for Energy. Ms Donnelly is responsible for the development of policies and actions leading to the achievement of the EU's 20-20-20 targets for renewable energy and energy savings. She is also responsible for the coordination of research activities in the field of energy, including the development of innovative solutions for low carbon technologies  She was previously Director of Resources and Communication in the Employment and Social Affairs Directorate General at the Commission.

More information on the Energy Efficiency Directive

Read a variety of policy documents, updates and citizens' summaries in several languages.

More information on the public consultation

The consultation was launched on 21 June and will be open until 5 September. Find out more and participate!