Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) are increasingly feeling the burden of exorbitant energy prices. For many, financial distress puts them at a risk of insolvency. To help them address this difficult situation, the European Commission and the International Energy Agency (IEA) presented on Friday 21 October, a series of immediately available actions that can be taken at various levels.
In an online event organised on the occasion, representatives from national, regional and local governments, financial institutions and energy agencies considered the impact of the energy crisis on SMEs and looked at what the EU, EU countries and SMEs themselves can do to increase their resilience through energy savings and energy efficiency. The event started at 11:00 (CEST) and was also followed live on DG Energy’s YouTube channel.
After the initial keynote addresses by Commissioner Kadri Simson and the co-hosting IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol, the panellist speakers included Leonore Gewessler, Austrian Federal Minister for Climate Action, Environment, Energy, Mobility, Innovation and Technology Austria; Claude Turmes, Minister of Spatial Planning and Energy from Luxembourg; Véronique Willems, Secretary General at SMEunited; Plamen Dimitrov, President of the Bulgarian Confederation of Independent Trade Unions, and Seamus Hoyne, Secretary General, European Federation of Agencies and Regions for Energy and Environment.
The European Commission is working with EU countries on EU-wide measures to tackle the energy crisis. A wide range of steps have already been taken to address concerns about security of supply and energy prices, with the latest set of proposals outlined earlier this week.
One of the most effective ways to support SMEs in mitigating energy costs and supply risks (covering gas, electricity and oil) is by helping them to reduce energy consumption, both in the short and longer term. These range from understanding their business’ energy use, through energy audits and energy monitoring and control tools, to involving employees and the workforce, who have a unique understanding of how the business works and where it can be more energy efficient.
Other cost-saving measures include prioritising highly efficient technologies when purchasing new or replacement equipment, and bringing forward any plans to invest in new energy efficiency measures. SMEs could also make some immediate energy cost savings by implementing good housekeeping and maintenance measures.
With many small businesses already reeling from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the current high energy prices and supply uncertainty are putting more pressure on them. SMEs, representing 99% of all businesses in the EU, are particularly vulnerable to economic shocks, as they lack the scale of larger companies to reduce any impact. SMEs employ around 100 million people, account for more than half of Europe’s GDP and play a key role in adding value in every sector of the economy. This means that any threat to SMEs will have a knock-on effect on the whole economy: on employment, through loss of revenue, temporary closures or bankruptcies, and on the purchasing power of employees. All stakeholders need to come together to empower and support SMEs to make them more resilient during this crisis.
Because of differences in energy and tax systems between EU countries, national and local governments are best placed to assist their local small businesses, rather than looking at a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach at EU level. At the same stage, the European Commission has several support schemes that focus on SMEs, including innovation, financing and advice services, with an increasing focus on the clean energy transition. These include EU funding programmes such as COSME, the LIFE Clean Energy Transition and the European Structural and Investment Funds and InvestEU.
In addition, national or regional energy agencies can support small businesses, as a first point of contact for advice on how to reduce energy consumption and switch to renewable energy. A list of European energy agencies can be found on the website of the European Energy Network.
Source: European Commission I Energy (https://bit.ly/3TwUhRW)