Energy efficiency

Reducing energy consumption and eliminating energy wastage is of growing importance to the EU. EU leaders decided in 2007 a target for 2020 of cutting the annual energy consumption of the Union by 20%. Energy efficiency measures are increasingly recognised as a means not only of achieving a sustainable energy supply, cutting greenhouse gas emissions, improving security of supply and reducing import bills, but also of promoting the competitiveness of European economies. The European Council of 20 and 21 March 2014 stressed the effectiveness of energy efficiency in bringing energy costs down and reducing energy dependency. The EU has set minimum energy efficiency standards and rules on labelling and ecodesign for products, services and infrastructure. These measures aim to improve efficiency at all stages of the energy chain, from energy supply to the use of energy by consumers.

Legal basis

Article 194 TFEU.


a.General framework

The Commission launched its ‘Action Plan for Energy Efficiency: Realising the Potential’ (COM(2006) 0545) in 2006. It was intended to mobilise the general public, policymakers and market actors, and transform the internal energy market in a way that would provide EU citizens with the most energy-efficient infrastructure (including buildings), products (including appliances and cars) and energy systems in the world. The objective of the Action Plan is to control and reduce energy demand and to take targeted action on consumption and supply in order to save 20% of annual consumption of primary energy by 2020 (compared to the energy consumption forecasts for 2020). Nonetheless, when recent estimates suggested that the EU was on course to achieving only half of the 20% objective, the Commission responded by developing a new and comprehensive Energy Efficiency Plan 2011 (EEP) (COM(2011) 0109).

The Energy Efficiency Directive (2012/27/EU) entered into force in December 2012. Under it, the Member States are required to establish indicative national energy efficiency targets for 2020, based on either primary or final energy consumption. The directive also sets legally binding rules for end-users and energy suppliers. Member States are free to make these minimum requirements more stringent as they strive to save energy. The directive includes, inter alia, the following requirements:

  • the renovation of at least 3% of the total floor area of buildings owned by central governments each year from 2014, and the purchase of buildings, services and products with high energy-efficiency performance, with the public sector thus leading the way;
  • the establishment of national long-term strategies to promote investment in the renovation of residential and commercial buildings and the drawing-up of national energy efficiency obligation schemes or equivalent measures to ensure an annual 1.5% energy saving for end-use consumers;
  • the assessment by the end of 2015 of the potential for the application of high-efficiency cogeneration and efficient district heating and cooling in all Member States;
  • mandatory regular energy audits for large companies to be conducted at least every four years, with the exception of companies with certified energy and environmental systems;
  • the rollout of smart grids and smart meters and the provision of accurate information on energy bills, to empower consumers and encourage more efficient energy consumption.

By 30 June 2014, the Commission will assess whether the EU is likely to achieve its primary energy savings target by 2020, and, if necessary, propose mandatory national energy efficiency targets. Member States will have to report each year on the progress made towards achieving national energy efficiency targets. In November 2013 the Commission issued a communication and seven guidance notes on the implementation of various aspects of the Energy Efficiency Directive.

A public consultation on the progress towards the 2020 energy efficiency objective and a 2030 energy efficiency policy framework is currently ongoing, and the deadline for submitting comments is 28 April 2014.

b.Energy services

The Energy Services Directive 2006/32/EC (repealing Council Directive 93/76/EEC) encouraged Member States to improve energy end-use efficiency and to exploit potential cost-effective energy savings in an economically efficient way. It was repealed with the entry into force of the more recent Energy Efficiency Directive (with the exception of its Articles 4(1) to (4) and Annexes I, III and IV, which will not be repealed until 1 January 2017), as some of their provisions overlap. The provisions that remain in force concern the achievement by 2017 of indicative energy savings targets of 9% of the final energy consumption of each Member State. The Energy Efficiency Directive further simplifies the requirements for energy-saving measurement laid out in the Energy Services Directive, and contributes to streamlining the existing legal framework provisions.


Directive 2004/8/EC on the promotion of cogeneration (amending Directive 92/42/EEC) was adopted in 2004 to support the development and use of cogeneration or combined heat and power production (CHP) in the EU. During its adoption process, the directive was the subject of heated debate in both the Council and Parliament. It established a uniform definition for electricity produced in CHP plants. The Commission established harmonised efficiency reference values for the separate production of electricity and heat, which were reviewed in a Commission implementing decision of 19 December 2011 to take account of technological developments and changes in the distribution of energy sources. The Cogeneration Directive was repealed when the Energy Efficiency Directive entered into force in December 2012. The Energy Efficiency Directive requires Member States to assess and notify the Commission of the potential for high-efficiency cogeneration and district heating and cooling on their territory and to conduct cost-benefit analysis based on climate conditions, economic feasibility and technical suitability (with some exemptions).

d.Energy performance of buildings

Directive 2002/91/EC on the energy performance of buildings (in particular insulation, air conditioning and the use of renewable energy sources) provides a method for calculating the energy performance of buildings, minimum requirements for new and existing large buildings, and energy certification. The directive was repealed as of 1 February 2012 by the recast Directive 2010/31/EU, which entered into force in July 2010. The main objective of this recast directive was to streamline certain provisions of the former directive and to strengthen the energy performance requirements with regard to:

  • the common general framework for a methodology for calculating the integrated energy performance of buildings and building units;
  • the application of minimum requirements to the energy performance of new buildings and new building units, establishing, for instance, that by 31 December 2020 all new buildings must be nearly zero-energy;
  • the application of minimum requirements to the energy performance of, in particular: existing buildings, building elements that are subject to major renovation, and technical building systems whenever they are installed, replaced or upgraded;
  • energy certification of buildings or building units, regular inspection of heating and air-conditioning systems in buildings and independent control systems for energy performance certificates and inspection reports.

The recast directive lays down minimum requirements, but any Member State can advocate or introduce further measures. As a follow-up to the recast directive, the Commission published in April 2013 a report assessing the effectiveness of the current financial support for energy efficiency in buildings (COM(2013) 0225). This report is also meant to help Member States implement a requirement laid down in the Energy Efficiency Directive concerning the establishment, by April 2014, of a long-term strategy for mobilising investment in the renovation of the national building stock. Another report published in February 2014 provides technical guidance on financing the energy renovation of buildings with Cohesion Policy funding.

e.Energy efficiency of products

With regard to the energy efficiency of products, several measures have been introduced at EU level, including, inter alia, measures for the:

  • indication by labelling and standard product information of the consumption of energy and other resources by energy-related products which have a significant direct or indirect impact on energy consumption, which is governed by Framework Directive 2010/30/EU. A report on the effectiveness of this directive is to be published by the Commission before the end of 2014. Specific directives and regulations set out requirements for various household appliances. The labelling of office equipment and the labelling of tyres are covered by separate regulations;
  • ecodesign requirements for energy-using products governed by Framework Directive 2009/125/EC, recasting Directive 2005/32/EC as amended by Directive 2008/28/EC). Implementing regulations cover a wide range of products, including heaters, vacuum cleaners, computers, air conditioners, dishwashers, lighting products, refrigerators and freezers, televisions, electric motors.

Role of the European Parliament

In its resolution of 15 December 2010 on the Revision of the Energy Efficiency Action Plan (T7-0485/2010), Parliament made it clear that a binding target on energy efficiency of at least 20% by 2020 should be adopted. It also called for a revision of the Energy Services Directive in 2011 that would include an expanded time framework until 2020 and a critical assessment of national energy efficiency action plans and their implementation.

In an earlier resolution of 6 May 2010 on mobilising information and communication technologies to facilitate the transition to an energy-efficient, low-carbon economy (T7-0153/2010), Parliament stressed that significant investments both for research and development (R&D) and the utilisation of existing technologies are needed in order to ensure a successful transition to an energy-efficient, low-carbon economy. It suggested that Member States should provide the incentives for both public and private energy efficiency investments; education in schools on energy efficiency would be a starting point. It further emphasised that widespread information campaigns explaining the benefits of smart metering and ICT to citizens are crucial for gaining public support.

During the adoption of the recast directive on the energy performance of buildings, Parliament was in favour of a stronger and more ambitious regulation. For example, it insisted that all buildings should be at least net zero energy by 31 December 2016 (COD/2008/223).

With regard to the recast Energy Labelling Directive (COD/2008/222), Parliament ensured that the text explicitly refers both to products that actually consume energy (and therefore have a direct impact) and those that do not consume energy themselves, but can have an indirect impact on energy savings. Moreover, Parliament strengthened the extent to which energy efficiency-related information has to be included in advertising and technical promotional material.

In 2012, Parliament played a key role in the negotiation of the Energy Efficiency Directive (COD/2011/0172) and ensured that the requirements for national building renovation strategies and mandatory energy audits for large companies were kept in the final compromise agreed with the Council. It also succeeded in keeping an amendment calling for rules on demand response mechanisms, which allow energy consumers to adjust their energy use to supply conditions and thus reduce their energy bills.

Parliament recently adopted a resolution on the implementation and impact of the energy efficiency measures under Cohesion Policy (2013/2038(INI)) welcoming new opportunities offered by the European Structural and Investment Funds and the Cohesion Fund, especially in the building sector. Parliament called for awareness-raising measures and information dissemination, and stressed the need for capacity building and technical assistance in this area.

In its resolution on a 2030 framework for climate and energy policies (2013/2135(INI)), Parliament called for a binding EU 2030 energy efficiency target of 40%, with accompanying individual national targets. It also reiterated its earlier call for a binding target for 2020.

Balázs Mellár