ENERGY POLICY:

Sweden tries to nudge E.U. toward 'eco-efficiency'

Beginning today, the Swedes are trying to get the European Union back on track toward improving its energy efficiency.

At an informal meeting of energy and environmental ministers from the 27 E.U. member states that starts today in Åre, Sweden, the host country hopes to refocus the other European states on what it calls "eco-efficiency."

In addition, the Swedes, who currently hold the E.U. presidency, will stress the need for Europe to be unified in its goals ahead of U.N. climate negotiations in Copenhagen, Denmark, this winter, said Johanna Martin, a spokeswoman for Sweden's energy minister, Maud Olofson.

"We're looking at how to make sure the European Union comes to Copenhagen speaking with one voice," Martin said. "We are facing challenges with the economic recession, and we still need an ambitious and good agreement in Copenhagen."

The European Union must adapt, said Sweden's environment minister, Andreas Carlgren, while previewing the meetings.

"If we are to manage climate change with growing economies, we must adapt the way we build, live and move around," Carlgren said. "Global demand for environmental solutions that contribute to that transformation will be great. By adapting early, the E.U. can gain a competitive edge while doing our bit for the climate."

As part of its efficiency push, the European Commission, the European Union's executive arm, released regulations for electrical appliances yesterday that, combined, will save power equal to the annual consumption of Sweden and Austria. Unlike directives, which E.U. countries may modify according to national demands, regulations are enforced as is throughout the region.

The regulations affect industrial motors, circulators, televisions, refrigerators and freezers and project to save 135 terrawatt-hours of electricity each year by 2020. For example, only TVs that currently have above-average efficiency will be allowed on the market by late next year.

The design specifics come as the union has lagged in its overall efficiency goal of cutting electricity consumption by 20 percent. Unlike its other prominent initiatives -- which promise to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent and employ 20 percent renewable power by 2020 -- the efficiency mandate is not binding on the E.U. member states.

The nonbinding nature of the mandate has produced what might best be described as lollygagging on energy efficiency. Last year, surveying what legislation had already been passed, the commission concluded that Europe was on track to achieve an energy savings of 13 percent by 2020.

As part of its efforts to increase that percentage, the Swedish presidency will push for the implementation of three efficiency directives, Martin said. The first will implement a labeling system for car tires, highlighting fuel-efficient brands, and the second will improve labeling on all household electric goods.

"We do have labeling today, but we're looking at how to make it easier to understand for consumers and producers," Martin said.

Perhaps most difficult to put together will be a revised directive focused on buildings, which account for 40 percent of European energy consumption. The European Parliament, which is composed of regional lawmakers directly elected from the member states, passed a preliminary bill calling for buildings to produce as much energy as they produce by 2019.

Many European governments find the Parliament's position economically infeasible and will fight any attempt to include the provision in a final directive.