Jeff Whiting, Energy Spokesman for Mitsubishi Electric, believes that recent developments mean the EU will lead the way on climate change and reap major benefits.
We will only combat climate change by paying attention to both the big picture and the fine details. The 'fine details' is everyone doing their bit, at home and at work and encouraging others to come on side too. The 'big picture' is developing a government policy that will work on national and international levels.
The EU often gets bad press – the 'straight banana' syndrome - but we should acknowledge that it has a massive role to play in climate change because it is the only body that can pull together 25 national governments and give them a common direction.
At first glance the EU's main weapon against global warming would seem to be paperwork - which is perhaps not so good for protecting our forests. But the value of all these Reports and Directives is of course the information they contain and the instructions they give.
At the back end of 2006 Andris Piebalg, European Commissioner for Energy, published his official Energy Efficiency Action Plan (downloadable from ec.europa.eu/energy/action_plan_energy_efficiency/doc/com_2006_0545_en.pdf).
At one level the report is a bit simplistic and naive, but that is to miss the point. The objective of this report is to highlight 10 things that can be achieved, that can be measured and that will be seen to make a difference. They deliberately directly affect products, buildings and services, education and international co-operation.
To Do list
Of the headlines activities, the relevant ones to us are:
- Appliance and equipment labelling and minimum energy performance standards.
- Building performance requirements and very low energy buildings (The UK has introduced new Building Regulations, covering things such as inverters on fan drives, and these need to be enforced).
- Making power generation and distribution more efficient.
- Facilitating appropriate financing of energy efficiency investments for small and medium-sized enterprises and Energy Service Companies.
- Spurring energy efficiency in the new Member States.
- A coherent use of taxation (for example the UK's Climate Change Levy taxes energy usage; the German equivalent encourages energy usage at night).
- Foster energy efficiency worldwide (The EU's global geo-political influence is far greater than a single nation could achieve.)
These activities fall into one of two camps: creating professional obligations; and changing the framework in which we operate. So we have both carrot and stick and – far more importantly – opportunities to be enterprising, new products and services to develop and new markets to address.
The Action Plans also includes a list of proposed measures, key ones being an extension of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, requirements for large plant to be more energy efficient, and a drive to make individual products more energy efficient.
However, introducing further legislation is only part of the equation. More importantly, the EU should be enforcing existing rules and regulations at ground level right across it community. It should also widen the 'Technology List' cited in climate change legislation to encourage more creative solutions.
Whatever happens, climate change initiatives are creating significant opportunities for engineers and technologists. In fact I would venture to say that the future will be so busy that we are going to need to produce far more young engineers than has been common for the last 20 years or more.
European Energy Policy
Following the Action Plan a policy was proposed by the European Commission in January 2007, for agreement by the Council of Ministers in March. This plan covered the proposals of the Action Plan, focussing on three main targets:
- Liberalisation of EU energy markets; unbundling generation and distribution.
- Move to a low carbon economy – proposed 20 per cent of energy generation to be from renewables and 10 per cent from biofuels by 2020.
- Energy Efficiency – unilateral 20 per cent reduction in demand by 2020. This is based on 1990 levels and is significantly higher than Kyoto's target of eight percent. The EU willing increase this to 30 per cent if America, China and India will come on board.
In March the Council of Ministers duly confirmed adoption of An Energy Policy for Europe (which can be downloaded as a PDF from ec.europa.eu/energy/energy_policy/doc/01_energy_policy_for_europe_en.pdf.
The policy seeks to create opportunities and boost competitiveness on the world stage, to reduce European energy demand and thus demonstrate to other regions that standards of living do not have to be compromised, and to develop eco-friendly technologies.
Significantly, progress is being made in both gas and electricity interconnection within the EU to move towards a more fluid ability to transport energy around the EU. One practical upshot of this is that the market will open up to at least a degree; another is this will create a number of major engineering projects.
And to finish on a practical level the EU is now positioned to develop the appropriate activities to meet a strategy with defined objectives and timetables. And as the largest trading bloc on the planet, the EU is now able to address the world stage with one voice.
Whether you like the EU or not, it is possibly the most effective global force against climate change.