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A Sustainable EU: 5 Years into Europe 2020

#IoT for Good

Europe 2020 is a ten-year plan proposed by the European Commission (EC) to achieve a cornucopia of improvements in the everyday life of European Union (EU) citizens.  As the EC says, it’s aim is for “the EU to become a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy.”  This program includes a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across the twenty eight EU countries (EU-28) in comparison to 2008 levels.

In that regard, let’s take a look at some of the methods that the EC suggested relating to carbon emission reduction.  Two years before the official launch of Europe 2020 in 2010, the EC commissioned a report from Bio Intelligence Service (owned by Deloitte) to discuss similar goals, but with a focus on Information and Communications Technology (ICT)’s influence on Smart, Sustainable Cities.

The report, titled “Impacts of Information and Communication Technologies on Energy Efficiency”, there were three targets for the EU:

  • Reduction of at least 20% in GHG emissions by 2020
  • A 20% share of renewable energies in EU energy consumption by 2020
  • A 20% reduction of the EU’s total primary energy consumption by 2020 through increased energy efficiency

The report gave an ideal scenario based on current ICT usage:

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Source: Report, “Impacts of Information and Communication Technologies on Energy Efficiency

The European Commission provided suggestions for the ICT sector and related government agencies on how to help achieve these goals:

  • Information to consumers to promote value efficiency and life cycle cost over purchase costs
  • Adoption of a European Green Public Procurement scheme
  • Extension of the European Energy Star labelling program or of the Energy label to other ICT devices (with priority on the products with significant energy consumption)
  • Develop financial incentives to foster green products
  • Ensure that innovation in R&D is rewarded through appropriate means (e.g. tax credit)
  • Encourage further research activities towards more energy efficient ICT components and systems.

The report also states that such things like building energy consumption has the potential to be lowered by as much as 35% if certain changes are made (e.g. efficient lighting systems, air flow systems, improvements in the energy grid, and certain industrial automation).  Though the report does not go through all sectors, it does highlight a few, including the industrial sector’s potential reduction in energy usage simply by altering industrial motors.

At first glance, all of the EC’s suggestions sound familiar – maybe more now than they did in 2008 – but have they helped?  The peak of EU energy consumption was in 2006.  As of 2013 (the most recent year with data available), the EU-28 consumes 9% less energy.  But the base year is 2008, so the 9% is not as dramatic as it looks (and even farther from the 10% that would mark the halfway point that 2015 is).  However, there are some positive data points.

Renewable energy sources are on the rise:

  • In primary production, there’s been an annual average growth rate of 6.64% since 2005.
  • In net imports, there’s been an annual average growth rate of 17.48%

In the same two areas (primary production and net imports), there have been decreases in fossil fuels:

  • Crude oil “and other hydrocarbons” aren net imports.

(Statistics from: Energy Balance Sheets – 2013 data – 2015 edition.)

Statistics like this are probably what made the European Environmental Agency (EEA) write that “The EU will meet its 20-20-20 commitments on GHG emissions and renewables. Although it may just fall short of its commitment to cut primary energy use by 20% by 2020, particularly if the reductions in energy use resulting from the 2008 economic crisis and subsequent recessions are not sustained.”

Gross inland energy consumption in 34 European countries (1990, 2005 and 2012)

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Percentage share of renewable energies in gross inland energy consumption in 34 European countries (1990, 2005 and 2012)

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Source: The European Environmental Agency

One hopes that the EU achieves the goals of Europe 2020.  Global energy consumption increased by 13.7% between 2005 and 2011 but the EU was not at the vanguard of this increase.  They were, in fact, lagging positively behind.  Though this kind of comparison is not necessarily helpful, it is promising.  And even if the EU-28 can only achieve two out of three goals in the sustainable energy portion of Europe 2020, it will still be globally impactful and personally encouraging.