Educating Spaniards to see the light on energy saving

Spanish government blows a gasket over oil-consumption profligacy

Alfredo garcía francés
(From El Pais (International July 27th 2008)

Educating Spaniards to see the light on energy saving as oil prices surge

Government drawing up plan to shave some €5 billion off fuel import bill

With Spain in the throes of its worst-ever economic crisis since the 1993 recession and suffering badly from the surge in oil prices oil, the government is trying to wean the country off its heavy reliance on imported fuel. Industry, Tourism and Trade Minister Miguel Sebastián is drawing up an energy-efficiency plan for the period 2008-2011 which aims to reduce imports of crude by 44 million barrels a year, which would wipe around €5 billion off the country’s energy import bill.

According to a study carried out in 2006 by the European Union’s statistics office Eurostat, Spain imports 81 percent of the energy it uses domestically.
That is 27.2 percent more than the average in the EU. Spain is also one of the least efficient consumers of energy in the bloc.
Spain has the second-largest current account deficit in the industrialized world after the United States, largely due to a huge trade shortfall, which has felt the effects of a doubling in oil prices over the past year.

According to figures released earlier this week by the Industry, Tourism and Trade Ministry, the trade deficit in the first fivemonths of the yearwidened 13.0 percent from a year earlier to €42.840 billion, as imports climbed 10.1 percent to €124.856 billion.

The Ministry said if oil prices had remained at the same levels as a year earlier, imports would have increased by only 3.9 percent and the trade shortfall would have shrunk by 5.5 percent.
Industry accounts for 31 percent of energy consumption in Spain and households some 20 percent. However, despite an 11-percent hike in electricity rates this year and the economic crisis, experts believe the government will still have a hard time persuading consumers of the benefits of being more conscious about saving energy.

“We are not aware in Spain,” says Ladislao Martínez, the spokesman for environmental group Ecologistas en Acción. “This is a country of newly rich.” According toMartínez, using the most energy-efficient technology alone is not enough. “It’s not logical that a household comprising three people buys a refrigerator designed for a household of eight in the same way that it doesn’t make any sense to cut butter with an electric saw,” he says. “The idea that saving means living less well is mistaken.”

Ecologistas en Acción identifies three basic areas in which households can cut down on energy use: lightning, refrigeration and air-conditioning. The latter is one of the personal bugbears of Sebastían, who has laid down the law on its use at the Industry Ministry. Few households had air-conditioning in Spain some 10 years ago but with greater wealth many now rely on it to escape the heat of summer.
Ecologistas en Acción says one of the simplest ways to cut down on energy use is to change incandescent light bulbs for compact fluorescent ones. Martínez said that measure alone could save 70 percent of the energy used for lighting. Another simple energy-saving device is to make sure refrigerators are placed where air can circulate freely behind them.

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