A new study from the German Frauenhofer Institute has revealed an enormous potential for energy savings in Europe. As much as 67% of current energy use could be cut by 2050.

The total amount of energy that could be saved compared to ‘business as usual’ was calculated as 8,400 TWh – or enough energy to power Belgium for 17 years.

The goal can only be realised by exploiting the full technical-economic potential of savings and by embracing new social trends.

The famous German research institute made calculations for three scenarios.

The Fraunhofer Institute calculated three scenarios for energy savings. Graphic: Coalition for Energy Savings

Under the first scenario the EU could reach final energy savings of 51% by removing technical and economic barriers. This scenario rigorously follows the leading principle of “energy saving first”. Investments in energy efficiency, which are cheaper than producing renewable energy, are always prioritised.

A second scenario goes one step further and includes a series of new social trends. These include the digitalisation of the economy and households, self-driving cars, the sharing economy, a switch to low-carbon industry, circular economy and by using materials more efficiently.

Warning

Depending on how the trends are dealt with, they could actually lead to less energy savings. Under Scenario 2 only 32% less energy is used compared to business as usual. This is because more connectivity and the automatisation of devices leads to higher energy use. In a circular economy recycling processes could also use higher energy use. In transport, technological efficiency gains can be totally lost as people simply travel more.

However, if cleverly embraced, new social trends can be taken advantage of to achieve impressive energy savings. In a third scenario, urbanisation leads to a more efficient use of space. Decentralised renewable energy is variably and correctly priced to stimulate energy savings. The circular and sharing economies reduce demand for energy-intensive products. Finally, energy is saved as people switch from private cars to bike and public transport. It is under this scenario that the EU could use 67% less energy than under a ‘business as usual’ situation.

This article was originally published in Dutch by EEB member Bond Beter Leefmilieu as ‘Berekend: Europa kan twee derde van zijn energieverbruik besparen‘. Translated by Anton Lazarus.