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9th Dec 2019

Data dearth hampers analysis of 'Energy Union'

  • Sefcovic: 'If we want to see and measure the progress in building up the Energy Union, we need to have a very clear set of criteria' (Photo: European Commission)

The European Commission has been unable to acquire all the required data needed to assess progress on its energy plans in time for the first State of the Energy Union report, which was presented by energy commissioner Maros Sefcovic Wednesday (18 November).

The 2015 report promises to give an overview of the progress towards the political goals that were set out in the commission's Energy Union strategy paper, published last February, which include decreasing Europe's reliance on fossil fuels and increasing energy security and energy efficiency.

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However, the stocktaking of one of this commission's flagship projects is challenged by a lack of comparable figures from member states and unclear definitions.

“If we want to see and measure the progress in building up the Energy Union, we need to have a very clear set of criteria, so we can compare the situation as it was when we started with the Energy Union, how we are progressing, and what we would like to achieve”, Sefcovic said at a press conference in Brussels on Wednesday.

However, while the commission has identified 23 such indicators for each of the member states – such as wholesale gas prices, greenhouse gas intensity of the economy, and primary energy consumption – it also said that several of those indicators had drawbacks.

The 17-page State of the Energy Union report was accompanied by a 91-page “staff working document”. It is this document that monitors the “progress towards the Energy Union objectives”.

The State of the Energy Union report is more a “political document”, while the staff working document is the actual progress report, a commission source said.

The staff working document listed at least thirteen “needs” for additional, improved, or more up-to-date information, required to determine the success of the Energy Union. It also said not all the policy objectives are accompanied by a clear definition.

For example, the commission wants to tackle “energy poverty”. To do so, it invented an energy poverty index, yet implicitly admits there is a degree of arbitrariness to how it is calculated.

“Estimating energy poverty depends on the definition given. As there is no single agreed definition at EU level, it is difficult to identify the most appropriate indicator”, the commission wrote.

Also, while the text included a measurement of the resilience of the natural gas system, it also said it could not provide a similar test for electrical power.

“At this stage, there are no commonly agreed standards or indicators that would allow for a monitoring of the overall resilience of the electricity systems throughout Europe on a comparable basis.”

The commission is also still looking for a way to measure the deployment of smart grids.

The Energy Union consists of five so-called dimensions, one of them being research, innovation, and competitiveness. But monitoring progress on this fifth dimension appeared to be the most problematic.

“The transition to a low-carbon economy requires that new technologies be developed and put into practice. Such technologies will emerge from an innovation process, which starts with R&D spending, followed by invention and deployment. Unfortunately, lack of available data does not yet allow all the dimensions of the innovation process to be properly monitored.”

The commission has established three research & innovation indicators. Two of them, unfortunately, have “drawbacks”. One has only data up to 2011, while the other lacked data on private research & development efforts at the level of the member states.

The commission source said that “maybe due to lack of time” not all indicators were ready to be included in this year's State of the Energy Union, which came in just under nine months after the Energy Union strategy had been presented.

“The idea is to kick-start the discussion”, she noted, adding that discussions with member states over which indicators to use in the next report will continue in December. This means that some indicators may still be modified or removed.

Some member states have already tried to exclude indicators that put them in an unfavourable light.

She noted that “if there was a good reason behind it”, the commission would be open to deleting indicators, but not if it was one objecting member state versus 27. The commission will also seek input from stakeholders, probably next year.

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