Efficacité énergétique, energie effizienz, eficiencia energética… Today industrial energy efficiency is a buzzword in every language. Where does France stand on this issue, by comparison with its European neighbours? What examples outside France can we take as models? Lawyer and partner in the De Pardieu Brocas Maffei firm and former Director-General of the Energy Regulatory Commission (CRE), Christine Le Bihan-Graf surveys European industrial energy efficiency policy.
What is your opinion of French initiatives in industrial energy efficiency?
As far as the law is concerned, improved energy efficiency has once again been set as an objective by the 2015 energy transition act, which lays down major objectives such as halving final energy consumption by 2050 and reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 40% below their 1990 level. At EU level, the new energy package currently under discussion stipulates a minimum 27% improvement in energy efficiency by 2030. That’s a binding objective. So there is no renouncement, just a reassertion of the need to achieve ambitious objectives. Unfortunately, though, the upturn in industrial energy efficiency has slowed slightly, for two reasons. The first is that, since the early 2000s, the overwhelming majority of industrial companies have made numerous improvements. Those that remain are the ones that are the least effortless and the least cost-effective. We have, therefore, reached a sort of plateau. The second reason is that the economic context has deteriorated, making it more difficult to invest now, even if it will reap savings later on.
Can Europe be considered a good example on the world stage?
As far as behaviour is concerned, the situation in Europe is on the mend. Between 2000 and 2015, industrial energy efficiency improved by 14%, i.e. a brisk 1.3% per year. Better still, in 2013, 41% of the energy savings in Europe had been achieved by industry, as against 34% in the residential sector, 22% for transport and 3% in the tertiary sector, which is very meagre. It should be noted, though, that not all industrial sectors are on the same footing. The automotive and food-processing industries, for example, are lagging behind steel and metallurgy. They therefore have more room for improvement.
How were these improvements achieved in different European countries?
There has been widespread use of traditional approaches based on command-and-control measures such as ecodesign rules, energy efficiency certificates, carbon taxes and so on. In some Eastern European countries, such as Bulgaria and Romania, energy audits are sometimes mandatory for very energy-intensive industrial companies. In a more novel approach, some of our neighbours have brought in collaborative policies that favour cooperative measures over penalties.
Which countries did you have in mind?
There is a rather interesting example in Sweden. It’s a special programme for energy-intensive industries: if they join the programme, they are exempted from a tax on electricity. Along the same lines, the governments in Germany, Ireland and Switzerland have brought in incentives for companies to network and pool their best practices. It means that some small companies can obtain expert guidance and advice that they would not have been able to afford otherwise.
What are the avenues for improvement over the next few years?
In France, ADEME (the French environment and energy management agency) believes that industry can achieve a further 20% improvement in energy efficiency by 2030. The figure climbs to 30% for the food-processing industry. Organisational measures are particularly effective within Europe through the ISO 50001 standard, which walks companies through the process of setting up energy-management systems. According to the latest figures released, only 14% of metallurgy facilities have a metering and analysis tool, and only 23% of facilities in the food-processing sector. This is not enough! Today the tools exist, but the degree of active involvement still varies far too widely, depending on the country, the sector or company size. For European industry to sustain its energy efficiency drive, it needs to take inspiration from the more collaborative approaches applied by certain pioneering countries.
About the author
Christine Le Bihan-Graf is a lawyer and partner in the De Pardieu Brocas Maffei firm, where she set up a department dealing specifically with industrial regulation and economic public law. She has sat on the French Council of State since 1998 and exercised a variety of functions in the French civil service, including Director-General of the Energy Regulatory Commission (2008-2011).