At the turn of the year, citizens and companies usually face numerous regulatory and financial changes, for better or worse. In 2015 these included new European rules to reduce the energy consumption of household appliances. The European Commission aims to set new standards in energy efficiency, claiming the changes will save EU households on average EUR 45 a year. The measures comprise a range of provisions including obligatory standby modes in networked equipment such as modems, and expansion of efficiency labels to online sales and to gas ovens.
Previously, efficiency labels were only required for electric devices. In the case of coffee machines, existing rules have been made more specific: they are now required to switch to standby or off mode after a certain period of time, depending on how they work. Espresso machines, for example, must switch off immediately after the brewing process, while drip filter machines that keep the coffee warm by means of a heating plate are allowed to stay on for 40 minutes.
The changes only apply to new products, however. Standby modes themselves have been the target of repeated criticism, but could bring advantages especially with networked devices which usually run continuously in most households. The EU Commission expects this measure to contribute the lion’s share to the projected EUR 45 annual savings. While the individual savings are still far from impressive, the Commission hopes to reduce overall carbon emissions by 28 million tonnes, equivalent to the yearly emissions of 1.5 million households.
The new rules stem from two directives that have been in place for some years now: the Ecodesign Directive from 2009 on energy-efficient products, and the Energy Labelling Directive from 2010. Companies that fail to comply with the rules laid out in the directives are punished by the respective EU member states, which in turn must comply with the Energy Efficiency Directive, which requires them to settle on national targets for 2020 and to achieve annual energy savings of at least 1.5 percent from 2014 to 2020, for example.
As most member states failed to hand in all of the requested documents by June, the EU Commission initiated legal proceedings against them, including Germany. In December, the German government made up for some of its earlier transgressions by adopting the long-awaited National Action Plan on Energy Efficiency (NAPE).
The plan consists of various measures by which the government hopes to save up to 30 million tonnes of carbon emissions by 2020. Among the objectives set out in the programme are tenders for funding to support the most energy-efficient production processes, company networks exchanging best practices, and tax reductions for homeowners who renovate their houses in order to save energy.
The specifics on the latter have yet to be settled on as the German federal states have a say in the matter, and have already rejected a similar attempt in the past. Debates centre on how the missing taxes will be made up for. However, participants agreed in December that a breakthrough had been made, so an agreement seems close.
Non-governmental organisations welcomed NAPE overall as a first step towards tapping into the huge potential of energy savings, but insisted that further steps are necessary. The German Climate Alliance of environmental organisations, trade unions and company initiatives claimed that NAPE will bring only a third of the savings needed by 2020, and called for an “efficiency turnaround” analogous to the German energy turnaround from fossil and nuclear to renewable energies.