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European Law Monitor NewsElectricity consumption growing in spite of efficiency drive says EU report

A report from the European Commission's in-house scientific service, the Joint Research Centre (JRC), indicates that overall electricity consumption is growing in the EU. Even if the EU and the Member States have adopted numerous successful measures to curb energy consumption and associated CO2 emissions, the electricity consumption in the residential sector of the EU-25 grew at a rate comparable to overall GDP (10.8 percent), effectively nullifying overall savings between 1999 and 2004. The report, Electricity Consumption and Efficiency Trends in the Enlarged European Union, highlights the key findings of an in-depth 2006 survey on electricity consumption in buildings in the enlarged EU, and the market share of energy-efficient appliances and equipment. It calculates future potential savings based on currently available technologies. According to the report, electricity consumption in the tertiary (service) sector increased by 15.8%, and industry consumption by 9.5%. The average consumption for a single household in the EU-25 was 4098 kWh in 2004. This could be reduced by 800 kWh per house per year, or about 20 % less electricity consumption in each household, if replacement of existing appliances and equipment and a full phase out of incandescent lighting were to be actively promoted in all EU Member States.

European citizens are increasingly concerned about the environment. According to a recent Eurobarometer, protecting the environment ranks second only to terrorism among the issues citizens feel are best addressed at EU level. Over recent years, the European Union has adopted numerous successful measures, in the form of labelling, minimum efficiency requirements, voluntary agreements, incentives and saving obligations, to curb energy consumption and associated CO2 emissions. The EU Greenhouse Gas Emission Trading Scheme is the largest multi-country, multi-sector Greenhouse Gas emission trading scheme world-wide.

In November 2006, the Commission presented an action plan on energy efficiency with the goal of consuming 20% less energy in 2020 than is the case today. The 60 measures included in this action plan address many of the problems identified in today's report.

The JRC report shows that such policies have permanently changed the face of the appliance market for the better in terms of efficient energy use, particularly for ´white goods´, such as refrigerators, washing machines and dishwashers. Nevertheless, the report clearly shows that electricity consumption in the EU-25 continues to increase, across all sectors (residential, service and industry).

The increasing demand for electricity in the EU Member States is down to many different factors. The widespread use in the EU of traditional appliances such as dishwashers, tumble driers, air conditioners and personal computers is one, as well as the introduction of consumer electronics and information and communication technology equipment such as Set Top boxes, DVD players, broadband equipment and cordless telephones. Other important factors are the increased number of double or triple appliances, mainly TVs and refrigerators/freezers in households, and the general increase in single family houses and larger houses and apartments.

One of the more notable findings of the report is that the area experiencing the biggest increase in consumption may be the easiest to remedy. The increasingly common phenomenon of household electronics on stand-by mode has a significant impact on a family´s electricity consumption, however new technology now makes it possible for manufacturers to produce equipment with very low stand-by losses. According to the report, simple changes in the way we regard the use of household appliances can lead to major energy savings. Researchers noticed, for example, that as older equipment is updated in a household, it is still often transferred to other parts of the home instead of being replaced, thereby contributing to greater electricity consumption.

Another important finding of the JRC report is that incandescent light bulbs, a relatively antiquated technology dating from the 19th century that waste a staggering 95% of the electricity they use to produce visible light, could be a field where modern technology could contribute to more efficient energy use. Many governments around the world have advocated the phasing out of incandescent lighting (e.g. Australia by 2012), and the JRC report notes that this may be a valid area of savings for Europe as well, in particular as new, very efficient technologies such as Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs) and recently white Light Emitting Diodes [LEDs] are rapidly penetrating the market.

The JRC report contains many useful tips for reducing energy consumption, such as switching to solar energy water heaters.

To view the full report:

Reproduced with the permission of the European Commission IP/07/1091