The European Commission intends to ask EU Member States to make an additional effort to increase their share of renewable energy in the power mix, according to a leaked draft of an official document revealed by Euractiv on May 4th. Brussels wants to upgrade its current 32% renewable energy target for 2030 to at least 38%, the document says. By the same deadline, the Commission aims to have 55% less greenhouse gas emissions compared to 1990 levels, and a 32.5% improvement in energy efficiency. Hence, increasing the renewable energy target is logical as energy is one of the main contributors to GHG emissions on the continent. But Europe is already on the right path, as its energy-related CO2 emissions decreased by 8% during the first quarter of 2020 (compared to 2019 levels).
This revision comes as the European Commission is examining its Sustainable Investment Taxonomy, and is expected to come up with an updated version of the Renewable Energy Directive (RED II) by July 2021.
As renewable sources currently meet 20% of European energy needs, achieving the new target set by the Commission would mean doubling this proportion in only ten years. It currently has an installed solar capacity of 137 GW, of which 19 GW were added in 2020
However, this goal appears ambitious while some countries struggle with their current renewable energy targets. France, for example, has not succeeded in achieving its goal of 23% renewable electricity which it set in 2009. Instead, it displayed a modest 19%, mainly driven by hydroelectricity generation, and failing at making its offshore wind industry take off.
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In January 2021, a report by the International Energy Agency and the French utility RTE, titled “Conditions and requirements for the technical feasibility of a power system with a high share of renewables in France towards 2050”, shook the French nuclear industry. It envisioned the possibility of a 100% renewable energy mix by 2050, throwing nuclear out of the game.
Next to this, it is worth noting that EU countries present high discrepancies in terms of renewables potential. Denmark is leading the race with a massive wind industry, providing over 47% of its electricity in 2019. On the other hand, countries like Poland and Hungary are still very reliant on coal, and are rather planning to replace it by switching to natural gas, and nuclear energy. The latter displays higher capacity factors than renewables, and solves their intermittency issue. Following that intent, several Ministers of Eastern European countries wrote a letter in February 2021 calling for the European Commission not to discriminate against nuclear over renewables.
An emphasis on transportation and heating sectors
Among the concrete options brought by the Commission for the achievement of the new target, there is an increase of clean energy use in the heating and cooling sectors: the policy options suggest that the share of renewables in those sectors should increase by 1,1 percentage point every year. An emphasis is also put on decarbonized transportation, based on the forecast of growing EV sales and the proliferation of biofuels. A system of certifications will be implemented to guarantee those fuels’ low carbon intensity, and more stringent rules will be imposed on the aviation sector. This last measure is only a continuation of a trend that has been going on for the past year, with companies such as Total actively investing into bio aviation fuels.
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Another bone of contention is the status of biomass in the Taxonomy, which currently draws a lot of criticism. In fact, wood biomass is a strategic energy resource for Nordic countries such as Sweden and Finland, which have been actively lobbying for looser criteria on its sustainability. Addressing that issue, the leaked document says it will consider implementing national caps on the use of stem wood.
Finally, to facilitate the process of investment into renewables, the European Commission is also reconsidering the rules for corporate renewable PPA’s, according to Montel News reports.
Cost-effectiveness and networks adaptation
This increase in targets was however deemed insufficient by renewable industry players. SolarPower Europe and Wind Europe told Euractiv that more could be done to enhance the European renewable competitiveness.
The cost-effectiveness of this new ambition also remains questionable. In fact, a substantial adaptation of electricity networks will be required to provide an adequate response to the variability of renewable energy sources, and the EU has not yet provided detailed sources of funding. Europe will also have to develop a regional supply chain for battery manufacturing, of which components are mostly imported from carbon-intensive China.
By Tatiana Serova for Oilprice.com
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