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Reaching the EU’s 2020 renewable energy targets

Kari Larsen

As part of the EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) in March, two of the panel debates discussed how to reach the EU’s 2020 renewable energy targets and how the Strategic Energy Technology (SET) plan will ensure successful implementation.

Hans van Steen, Head of Unit, the Director-General Energy C1 of the European Commission, opened the first session giving an overview over the current energy situation in the EU.

In 2009, the EU spent €234 billion on energy imports, and commenting on the interim 2010 targets for emission reductions and renewable energy implementation, van Steen said few countries are on track to meet their targets.

NREAPs “must be delivered on time, be complete and credible in terms of target compliance.”
- Hans van Steen

However, for the Commission, the national plans (to be submitted in June), will be key for implementing renewable energy. He said the National Renewable Energy Action Plans (NREAPs) will provide stability for investors and give transparency of renewable energy developments in the EU, enabling the Commission to enforce and keep member states on track to targets.

Although, he warned that the NREAPs “must be delivered on time, be complete and credible in terms of target compliance.”

How do we get there?

Member of the European Parliament, Claude Turmes, said the 20% renewable energy target is not enough. “The EU ETS [Emissions Trading System] is meaningless if we don’t get to 30%.”

Furthermore, to focus solely on 2020 is not enough either. “2030/50 will be the next big discussion,” he warned. “I want to wake you up on that!”

“The EU ETS [Emissions Trading System] is meaningless if we don’t get to 30%.”
- Claude Turmes

But how will we get there? Turmes believes that upgrading the grid will be critical to reaching renewable energy targets.

He told the audience that most of the current grid in Europe is 50-60 years old, and that transmission system updates are necessary to accommodate renewable energy.

As an example of what is needed to achieve this, he said the Belgian presidency of the EU must provide a blueprint on the planned supergrids in the North and Baltic Seas.

Despite these challenges, Turmes believes it is possible to reach 80-100% renewable energy in the EU though this will require a huge amount of investment. Renewable energy must also be complemented with reductions in electricity demands.

The main obstacle to reaching renewable energy targets is not technology, Turmes said. “The obstacle is political and nothing else.”

Technology is there…

Giles Dickson at power generation system provider ALSTOM, said that on their part, all technologies are ready, or close to being ready for selling. However: “We cannot sell any of them.”

Dickson said this is because the technologies cost too much and power companies are generally not making big investments at the moment. Furthermore, customers want to see technologies in use before they will invest.

There is a lack of demonstration of technology after the R&D stage – which costs much more than the original research and development, Dickson explained.

Money, money, money

The obstacle of finance was a recurring theme in the two sessions. Martin Schöpe, Head of Division, Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, Germany, said a stable political framework is needed to give stability for investors.

He said enough finance is available in the market, but that investors want more security to invest.

“We’re too nice to each other – we must start competing!”
- Carlos Abanades

ALSTOM’s Dickson said that public investment is welcome, but when this investment creates too many costs in terms of administration, industry will not want to take up funding. He said a low carbon fund to support the low carbon transition will be needed with support from the EU, the European Investment Bank and member states.

Carlos Abanades at the Ministry of Research and Innovation in Spain, said that the real driver for money is “political and credible policy that results in real deployment.”

He said that competition must be favoured at all levels and that in the low carbon industry “we’re too nice to each other – we must start competing!”

Juan Alario, Energy Efficiency and Renewables at the European Investment Bank added that longer-term objectives than 2020 are needed to attract investment.

He acknowledged that access to equity and finance is more difficult at the moment and that public budgets are under constraints, but that we also need to use the money we do have more efficiently.

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