ManagEnergy spoke with Paolo Bertoldi of the Joint Research Centre’s Institute for Energy and Transport about growth in sustainable energy financing, the role of energy agencies at the local level, and the outstanding success of the Covenant of Mayors initiative.
How has financing for energy efficiency changed over the last five years?
Policy makers and national and local administrations are paying much greater attention to energy efficiency these days. As a consequence opportunities to finance energy efficiency projects have expanded. There are now several EU funds available; for example, the PDA facilities, ELENA, and the European Energy Efficiency Fund, the first set being specially designed for local authorities. The matter has also gained ground in the private sector with many more products and services on the market that can help local authorities carry out energy efficiency projects.
How important is the local and regional level for achieving the EU 2020 goals, especially with regards to energy efficiency?
We cannot achieve these goals without the commitment of local authorities, regional authorities, and also citizens. Because local authorities are so close to citizens they have the power to really motivate them, to get them on board with 2020 goals especially energy saving ones.
We’ve been really astonished to see the huge success of the Covenant of Mayors, which, in my view, is one of the major EU initiatives to improve energy efficiency throughout the union. And the success of the initiative, with over 5000 cities having signed up, shows the readiness of the population to commit. Local engagement and commitment is indeed very important. Without it I seriously doubt we would reach the 2020 goals.
You've spoken about the role of local authorities in being close to citizens in a political sense. How about their technical capacity to act? What’s their role here as project brokers?
Energy agencies contain much of the technical expertise. But that’s not all; they also act as brokers and aggregators for other local authorities. So, for example, they don’t just promote the concept of energy performance contracting, say, but might offer the local authority a template for a contract, give advice and technical support—in effect, acting as a broker between an ESCO and a local authority. They also offer more direct advisory services to citizens. Again, a national agency would have difficulty coping with all the inquiries and specific requests from citizens—this is something to be done at the local level.
Is there sufficient capacity at the local level or is this something that needs to be built up? What about actions coming from the regional level?
The role of regional energy agencies has grown over the past ten years. For example, some have a very active role in the Covenant of Mayors as territorial coordinators. Though not all agencies are at the same level, of course. They differ in size, but also in specialization: some have expertise in energy efficiency of buildings, others more in financing. There is still need to establish more agencies and continue support for those that exist. Some member states don't yet have deep coverage in all their regions and large cities. I know that it’s often a struggle to find funding for agencies, but it should be seen as a good investment because in the end they serve the local authorities and provide cost savings.
What are the drivers here for achieving the EU 2020 goals, especially for energy efficiency?
The drivers are different depending on where you look in Europe and according to different local pressures. For citizens—but public authorities too—it’s chiefly about saving money by reducing energy expenditure. But we also see more and more local interest in climate change, and a desire to build green, low carbon cities. So awareness of the impact that cities can have on climate change also acts as a driver.
Job creation, local development, making cities more livable—these too are factors. In the end, a refurbished building is just a better place to spend time. For schools especially. By improving efficiency in schools we enhance their indoor air quality, lighting conditions, and ventilation. As a result pupils perform better and are happier to attend school. So it's not just about financial savings; there’re a lot of benefits energy efficiency can bring to local authorities and their citizens. They're becoming aware of this, and they want it.
Do you think this is an area that Europe can lead in?
Certainly. Again I go back to the Covenant of Mayors: when it was designed it was expected to be a programme for a hundred front-runner cities. Now we're at 5000. I don't think anywhere else in the world there is such a large programme that commits local authorities to climate and energy goals. And this is why Europe has already set a good example; already it’s being replicated outside Europe. Multi-level governance is very important whereby national authorities interact with the local to share the weight of achieving important goals.
You've been involved in this field for quite some time. What's your personal motivation for your work?
I think it’s largely the satisfaction that comes with building policy programmes that work and then the continual process of improving them. Also, knowing that we are doing our part to reach beyond Europe in the fight against climate change. Europe has set a positive example here. It's important that we feel proud as Europeans in setting an example of a low carbon society.
Paolo Bertoldi earned his Doctorate in Electrical Engineering in 1985 from the University of Padova (Italy). He has been working with the European Commission since 1986. From 1986 to 1993 he worked in the EU nuclear fusion project, Joint Undertaking Torus (JET) in the UK. From 1993 until April 2001, he was an Administrator with the European Commission, DG Energy and Transport (DG TREN, Brussels Belgium), in charge of EU regulatory and voluntary programmes for the rational use of energy in end-use equipment, buildings and industry. He was also in charge of negotiated and long term agreements with industry and tertiary sectors and the GreenLight programme. Since May 2001, he is Principal Administrator at the European Commission Joint Research Centre (Ispra, Italy), in charge of research activities on energy efficiency policy, the efficient use of electricity (ICT, data centres, digital TV) and innovative policy instruments (e.g. white certificates, financing mechanisms, emission trading). He continues to manage the GreenLight, Motor Challenge and Standby Initiative programmes.
To read work by Paolo Bertoldi, browse the JRC’s publications database: http://publications.jrc.ec.europa.eu/repository/browse?type=author&value=BERTOLDI+PAOLO