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IEA head calls for cooling controls

FRANCE: Faced with a “perilous” energy crisis, the head of the International Energy Agency (IEA) has called for the EU to implement cooling standards and controls to reduce energy demand. 

Writing on the website of the international intergovernmental organisation, IEA executive director Dr Fatih Birol says that Europe is at the “epicentre” of the current unprecedented global energy crisis and he is “particularly concerned” about the months ahead.

After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Birol writes that nobody in Europe or elsewhere could be under any illusions about the risks around Russian energy supplies. The IEA’s own 10-Point Plan to reduce the European Union’s reliance on Russian natural gas, previously sets out practical actions Europe could take. It stressed the need to maximise gas supplies from other sources; accelerate the deployment of solar and wind; make the most of existing low emissions energy sources, such as renewables and nuclear; ramp up energy efficiency measures in homes and businesses; and take steps to save energy by turning down the thermostat. 

Birol insists that with early and sustained action, it would be possible to reduce the EU’s reliance on Russian gas imports by one-third within a year – and to do so in an orderly manner that would be consistent with the EU’s climate ambitions.

However, he insists that while there has been some progress on this, particularly in terms of diversifying gas supplies, but not enough, especially on the demand side, to prevent Europe from finding itself in an “incredibly precarious situation”. 

Amongst five concrete actions that European leaders need to take, Birol proposes bringing down household electricity demand by setting cooling standards and controls. He advises that government and public buildings should take the lead, while campaigns should encourage behavioural changes among consumers.

Spain and Italy have both recently passed decrees to limit air conditioning temperatures in public buildings, but Birol insists more needs to be done.

“If Russia decides to completely cut off gas supplies before Europe can get its storage levels up to 90%, the situation will be even more grave and challenging. European leaders need to be preparing for this possibility now to avoid the potential damage that would result from a disjointed and destabilising response,” he writes. 

“Today, Europe needs to do be doing everything it can to reduce the risk of major gas shortages and rationing, especially during the coming winter when its most vulnerable citizens can least afford to go without it. 

“This winter could become a historic test of European solidarity – one it cannot afford to fail – with implications far beyond the energy sector. Europe may well be called upon to show the true strength of its union.”

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