According to the European Commission, the principle of “Efficiency First” is at the heart of the EU Energy Union’s strategy to transition to a low-carbon economy. Maroš Šefčovič, vice president of the Energy Union, has applauded energy efficiency as a tool by which, “we can help restore Europe to growth, create jobs, reduce imports, and improve air quality.” As Europe drives forward progress on the objectives set out for the Energy Union and in the Paris Agreement, energy efficiency and demand response need to play a pivotal role in meeting the challenges of the current European power system, such as integrating variable renewable energy resources and electrifying transport and heating.

So how far has the European Commission come in ensuring that priority is given to investments in efficiency resources? One year after the release of the Clean Energy for all Europeans package of legislation, Edith Bayer of RAP and Yamina Saheb of OpenExp assessed the Energy Commission’s progress toward this stated goal.

There are clearly positive results. This year has seen improvements in how energy efficiency is valued in impact assessments as well as how public investments in energy efficiency are treated in accounting guidelines. And the Clean Energy for All Europeans package provides opportunities to more strongly anchor Efficiency First in the energy policy and investment framework. The authors recommend defining Efficiency First in legislation and developing an official process to identify the policies and practices where efficiency is ignored or undervalued, and to address the areas where more needs to be done. Strong evaluation, monitoring, and verification measures are required to quantify the resulting energy savings and value of demand response.

The Multiannual Financial Framework and the State Aid Guidelines represent future opportunities for the Commission to demonstrate that efficiency is an unwavering priority. The Commission has the potential to help Efficiency First become a driving force in a consumer-oriented, cost-effective energy transition. As summarized by vice president Šefčovič, “Efficiency First can help us deliver the Energy Union—and Europe—we want.”