It may have gone largely unnoticed that last week was the European Union's Sustainable Energy Week, but according to several experts events behind the scenes at the European Commission revealed it is approaching a major legislative breakthrough on energy efficiency that could reshape the entire European technology landscape.
Speaking following a workshop in Brussels on Applying ICT-based Solutions to Energy Efficiency Challenges (pictured), senior executives at HP admitted they thought that the Commission was approaching a milestone in its attempts to improve energy efficiency and that strict new legislation could be in place within "two years".
"The new package of energy proposals [released last month] will be reviewed in March and if it is approved [by the European Parliament] it will have a major impact across all industries," predicted Bernard Meric, senior vice president external relations for HP in Europe, Middle East and Africa. "It is a major milestone. It will increase awareness of efficiency issues further and provide renewed impetus for the push for standards."
HP also predicted that the new proposals would result in wider adoption of energy efficiency specifications in public procurements. "In the Nordic region energy efficiency has been included in public tenders for ten years and we expect to see the EU roll that out across the union," said Hans Wendschlag, Nordic environmental programme manager for the company. "It is one of the areas we really want to see more progress. It is not enough to just buy on up front price any more and we expect more precise guidelines for governments from the EU."
Alongside the broader proposals included in the recent energy package, experts also signaled that progress was being made towards banning inefficient electrical products under the Energy Using Products (EUP) directive.
The directive - which came into force in August 2005 and is due to be transposed by member states by August 11th this year - covers fourteen different areas, including PCs, printers and consumer electronics, and has the power to ban products that fail to meet minimum standards and ensure the energy efficiency of products is included on labeling.
The various EUP studies to determine the standards by which to gauge energy efficiency are due to be completed by 2008 and Wendschlag said that HP expects to see "legally binding measures within two years that will raise the floor for the worst performers".
Meike Escherich, senior analyst at Gartner, agreed that a rare consensus in the European Commission meant that not only could the legislation be pushed through relatively quickly but that the minimum standards could prove surprisingly stringent. "The minimum standards are still being discussed but the early signals are that they will be pretty strict and won't be easy to achieve," she said.
Perhaps surprisingly leading IT manufacturers have reportedly not been engaged in intensive lobbying against these new measures, despite the fact they could see swathes of their products banned. "It is actually good news for firms that can afford to do the R&D," explained Escherich. "It's not that easy to change your whole production and design process so [the EUP] could have a big impact on imports as some of the Asia-Pac manufacturers may just forget about Europe… We'll see a smaller list of available suppliers, which is why the big players like HP, Dell and Fujitsu are broadly supporting the EU on this."
Like many manufacturers of electrical equipment HP says it is keen to see a largely voluntary element to any improvements in energy efficiency, but Meric hinted that it would indeed support much of the new legislation, claiming that setting standards for procurement and cutting off energy inefficient products would prove "two clever ways of moving the market" that "will punish the worst performers and reward the best".
Banning products and effectively forcing smaller suppliers out of the market would of course lead to less competition, but Escherich argued that most customers would see that as a price worth paying if it means they see significant improvements in the energy efficiency of their products.
The legislation also means that European purchasers not already considering energy efficiency as a factor in their procurement decisions now have another major reason to do so, as inefficient products could well be discontinued within two years making support and spare parts arrangements more difficult.
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