EU Referendum

EU regulation: Hannan gets it wrong


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This is the sort of story that Booker might have done 20 years ago, but if he had been asked to write it today, I'm sure he would have turned it down. The story in the Mail is a crock.

But it is obvious that the paper was looking for a cheap hit against the EU, so it went to Daniel Hannan. He can always be relied upon to deliver goods to spec, claiming his £1,000 or thereabouts, for a fact-free rant that probably took him about an hour to write.

For the rest of us though, and for myself in particular, this tedious, lightweight garbage from bottom-feeders like Hannan does nothing but harm. The energy efficiency requirement, in fact, is an example of the EU doing something it does best. It is something that needs to be done, and would have to be done even if there was no EU, or if we were outside the EU.

The European Commission in London last week made the case for the new rules (which came into force yesterday), and I agree with most of what it says. I also agree with what the Commission said over a year ago, but if Hannan had used any of this material (not that he would), his piece would not have been published, and he would not have got his money.

The point about this new requirement is that it is one of a raft of measures which deals with energy efficiency of domestic appliances – something which the free market finds it difficult to deliver unaided. The savings are often of no interest to the consumer who still puts the purchase cost before the whole-life cost, with includes the running costs.

But, as the Commission avers, more efficient vacuum cleaners would save 19 terawatt hours (TWh) of energy annually in the EU by 2020, the amount of energy would keep the London Underground running for up to twenty years - the electricity produced by more than four nuclear power plants for 5.5 million households.

That sort of saving is very worthwhile and is part of the little-acknowledged revolution in the electricity industry, called demand-side management (DSM). Small increments in efficiency in domestic appliances can have a huge cumulative effect. And this is a success story. So much has already been saved that, despite the increasing number of electrical appliances in our homes, the average electricity consumption for a "medium" home has remained static at 3,300kWH per year since 2003.

It is this, more than anything (with strategies for the commercial and industrial sectors) which is aiming to bring overall peak demand down from 120GW to less that 60GW, saving the massive building and infrastructure costs that would otherwise be required – without anyone noticing the difference.

While much of what has been said has been focused on reducing CO2 emissions, there are economic advantages to not wasting fuel and not building energy plants that will never be utilised to its full capacity.

Adding capacity to the grid is not cheap, and the notion of large generation plant in remote locations is very much an idea belonging to yesteryear. The choice is whether we waste billions on new CCGT plants, or to take minor, non-intrusive regulatory steps to remove the necessity.

For sure formulating international standards for energy efficiency and regulating for their use does have a cost for manufacturers of appliances. However, if the consumer ends up paying slightly more for their vacuum cleaners or hair dryers, they will pay less in running costs and vastly less in not having to finance huge infrastructure costs.

The trouble is that this sort of thing has to be done at the very least on a Europe-wide and preferably global scale. National markets do not have enough pull with multi-national corporates to be able to develop binding international standards.

Personally, I would prefer that the regional host was not the EU, but UNECE, so that we don't have the political baggage that goes with this sort of initiative. But don't run away with the idea that we don't need these standards – we do.

In the United States, for instance, exactly the same process is going on. Their own American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) is also developing an energy efficiency standard for vacuum cleaners. And, as an indication of what goes on in the land of the free, they have their very own vacuum cleaner committee (F11), which has over 80 members and has hosted 34 technical standards since it was formed in 1972.

It is unclear as to whether the committee has produced its own energy efficiency standards (the link to that sub-committee is broken), but in the nature of things, there will be one which will differ marginally from the European standard.

Then, after a decade of more, an ISO standard will be agreed, and there will be a global standard for vacuum cleaners, the adoption of which will be the precursor for free trade in these appliances.

Where the like of Hannan and their mindless Euroscepticism are so damaging therefore, is that they muddy the water. We actually need a better understanding of functions such as this, so that when it comes to the exit plan, we can distinguish between what is good, and necessary in the EU – and can be continued (with or without modifications) – and what we need to ditch.

In this context, not all regulation is bad; not all regulation is unnecessary. And just because it comes from the EU doesn't make it bad. Hannan talks glibly about "freedom", but this isn't about that, unless you demand "freedom" to waste electricity and to build unnecessary power stations. It is about very sensible and necessary energy-saving measures. The man does us no favours by spouting his nonsense.