Energy efficiency Uncovering hidden treasures

Energy efficiency is our best source of energy. Every kilowatt hour of electricity, every litre of oil, every tonne of coal that we do not consume protects the climate and saves money. The implementation of the EU target of a 20 per cent efficiency increase by 2020 alone is estimated to reduce energy costs in Europe by 100 billion Euros per year. Moreover, investments in energy efficiency pay off in many cases with the technology available today. However, awareness of this fact still has to be conveyed to decision-makers in all sectors, to private consumers, managers of small- and medium-sized enterprises and officials responsible for public spending.

Without its own legal competency in the common European market, Germany therefore supports proposals by the European Commission for ambitious minimum efficiency standards, effectively excluding products with higher electricity consumption levels from the market. The European Commission has identified 19 priority product groups to be targeted up to 2009, from fridges, washing machines and tumble dryers to personal computers, televisions, lights and electric motors. Here, Germany calls for a top runner approach: today's best appliances will determine the minimum standard of tomorrow.

At the same time, Germany is urging the EU Commission to introduce a more effective and consumer-friendly labelling of energy-using products. Often consumers are unaware of 'hidden costs' caused by energy consumption in standby mode or the overall life-cycle costs of an appliance, although these are often higher than the actual purchase price. Consequently, consumers need to be better informed to enable them to take energy savings into account in their purchase decisions.

There is also huge potential for energy savings in buildings. Old buildings consume 20 to 30 litres of oil per square metre per year, an amount that could be reduced by more than three-quarters through better insulation and more efficient heating systems. House owners will now be required to exhaust this potential in cases of a basic modernization of the building or heating system. From 2009 on, the design of new buildings must guarantee consumption at 3 litres of oil per square metre. The goal for 2020 is to become completely independent of oil and gas by means of intelligent building technology and renewable energies.

As an incentive to owners to modernize their houses, the German government has quadrupled its funding for modernizing energy systems in buildings compared to 2005, up to a total of US$1.8 billion. There is also increased support for tenants' rights: if the landlord of a property does not modernize it and, as a result, the heating costs are too high, tenants should be allowed to reduce their rent.

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