Commission proposes new rules on gas and a heating and cooling strategy

The European Commission has released new proposals for a raft of measures which will shore-up prevention of gas crises and ensure better coordination and support between EU countries in any gas supply disruption. The proposals will also tighten-up so-called intergovernmental agreements in the energy field between EU and non-EU countries and set out a strategy for boosting energy security through access to LNG and gas storage. Furthermore, addressing the potential for improving energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy in the sector with the first ever dedicated strategy, the Commission presents the way forward to move towards a smart, efficient and sustainable heating and cooling system.

These proposals are part of the Commission’s Energy Union strategy and will give a strong push to improving the EU’s energy security and solidarity. They are also in line with the EU’s commitments to fighting climate change taken at the Paris climate summit towards the end of last year.

The Energy Union Strategy, launched one year ago, promised to provide all Europeans with energy which is secure, sustainable, and competitive. Today’s package focuses on the security of our supply, but touches upon all three overarching goals. By reducing our energy demand, and better managing our supply from external sources we are delivering on our promise and enhancing the stability of Europe’s energy market,” Maroš Šefčovič, Commission Vice-President for Energy Union, said.

After the gas crises of 2006 and 2009 that left many millions out in the cold, we said: ‘Never again’. But the stress tests of 2014 showed we are still far too vulnerable to major disruption of gas supplies. And the political tensions on our borders are a sharp reminder that this problem will not just go away. Today’s proposals are about a reliable, competitive and flexible system in which energy flows across borders and consumers reap the benefits. They are about standing together to protect the most vulnerable. And they are about securing our clean energy future: I can assure that our commitment to a clean energy transition is irreversible and non-negotiable,” Miguel Arias Cañete, Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy, said.

On gas crisis prevention, the Commission plans to improve coordination between EU countries and create rules that would require an EU country to help out its neighbour if it is experiencing a very severe gas crisis. Under the so-called solidarity principle, an EU country in trouble would see gas supplies to its households and essential services ensured by neighbouring EU countries.

Gas currently covers one quarter of the EU’s energy consumption and the EU is the biggest gas importer in the world. The expected decline of domestic EU gas production will also impact on gas imports. Besides, gas is also seen to play a determinant role in accompanying the EU’s transition to a low carbon energy system since it is a back-up fuel for renewables when weather conditions hamper renewable energy production. The Commission has also published a proposal to tighten-up so-called intergovernmental energy agreements between an EU country and a non-EU country. The new rules will allow the Commission to take action before such agreements are signed if it assesses that such an agreement could affect the security of gas supplies in another EU country or hamper the functioning of the EU’s energy market.

Finally, the Commission has outlined how better access to a rapidly developing global market in Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) and better use of gas storage across the EU would allow EU countries that are dependent on very few gas suppliers to diversify their supply and hence strengthen their energy security.

For heating and cooling, the Commission has launched its first ever strategy to tackle the massive use of energy, particularly fossil fuels, in the sector. Heating and cooling accounts for 50% of the EU’s energy consumption and renewables account for just 18% of this. The strategy includes plans to boost the energy efficiency of buildings, improve linkages between electricity systems and district heating systems which will greatly increase the use of renewable energy, and encourage reuse of waste heat and cold generated by industry.

It also aims to ease access to information for consumers to allow them to better understand their energy use and make informed choices that could save energy, as well as inform them on possible energy efficient renovations and options for generating their own energy with renewables.