H2020 projects helping to turn Energy efficiency first from principle to practice

While energy efficiency is at the heart of the EU’s energy and climate objectives, on a par with increasing the use of renewable energy, it is still too often overlooked in planning and investment decisions. To respond to this challenge, the European Union has promoted the “Energy efficiency first” (EE1st) principle to ensure that cost-efficient energy efficiency measures are taken into account, that energy demand is reduced and only the energy really needed is produced.

For many years now, EE1st has been an essential element of the Energy Union and the Clean Energy Package. It is defined in the Governance Regulation which inter alia requires Member States to consider it in their National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs). But the practical implementation of EE1st in investment and planning decisions is still a major challenge across a wide range of sectors from the energy supply and distribution to the energy end-use sectors. 

The European Commission has now proposed an even clearer priority for EE1st in the recast Energy Efficiency Directive with an obligation to consider energy efficiency solutions in energy system and non-energy sectors planning, policy and investment decisions but also to develop methodologies to take into account the wider benefits of energy efficiency. At the end of September 2021, the Commission also issued a recommendation and detailed guidelinesSearch for available translations of the preceding link on the application of EE1st to make the principle more operational.

Several projects funded under H2020 Energy Efficiency, have made an important contribution to the elaboration of the guidelines. ENEFIRST has reviewed global best practices and analysed the barriers for and the potential impact of implementing EE1stin Europe. sEEnergies has quantified the potential of energy efficiency measures in the building, transport and industry sectors, combining existing models with temporal and spatial analyses to develop a decision support tool.

Other projects are paving the way for the development of a cost benefits analysis methodology taking into account the multiple benefits of energy efficiency measures. The project COMBI has helped quantify and, where possible, monetise the multiple benefits of energy efficiency measures in the residential, commercial, industrial and transport sectors while the project M-Benefits has demonstrated that taking into account non-energy benefits will reduce the total payback time associated with the implementation of energy efficiency investments. Furthermore, the project MICAT is preparing a publicly available online tool to estimate the multiple impacts of energy efficiency. 

To assist local authorities with the implementation of EE1st, EERAdata is also developing a decision-support tool to help collect and process building data in order to assess the impact of energy efficiency measures and prioritise them in planning as well as building renovation and construction.

Finally, sector specific guidance is also crucial. In this context, the EE1st guidelines refer to ENERWATER, which provided a standard method and online tool for assessing and improving the energy efficiency of wastewater treatment plants. The European Committee for Standardization (CEN) has approved the ENERWATER methodology as a European standard in January 2021.


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