22 de Julio del 2019

RENEWABLE ENERGY TARGETS for 2030: Is it possible? How much political cost?

Renewable energy is part of the energy issues which have been present since the inception of the EU in strategical terms (i.e. European Community of Coal and Steel). Recently, renewables have become the most ambitious instrument to replace fossil fuels and tackle climate change, placing the EU as a global leader in the field. Nevertheless, some Member States face limitations that prevent them from increasing their share of renewables in the energy sector. So, is it possible to achieve the 2030 targets?

We should start with the 2020 targets, which established in 2009 a 20% for the share of renewable energy in total EU energy consumption. The last statistics show that in 2017 the performance of the Union is not the best (17.5%) and some of its Members, including the largest economies, will not live up to their commitments. Why?

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Performance is mainly driven by structural features: natural resources, traditional systems for energy production, and technology. For example, concerning natural resources, Sweden comes first with its large reserves of hydro power and cooper (the best combination for renewables). On the other hand, with a very low performance, there is Poland rich in coal and therefore has more difficulties adapting its traditional energy production to the new green technologies.

Another factor is technology itself which has been used and exploited depending on structural features. Countries with potential in solar and wind sources have benefited from technological advances and lower costs (in comparison to traditional hydro power). This is the case of the UK and Germany both of which have increased their installed electricity capacity[1][2].

The momentum is also important. The starting point (the baseline share of renewables) has an impact on the increase of renewables. During the introduction of renewables, the increase is faster due to the low level at the starting point (as observed in the UK). However, when the share gets higher, the increase becomes slower (this is the case of Sweden, whose electricity sector did not increase much whereas the transport was the one sector contributing to the higher tendency towards renewables).

Variation in % of renewables share in electricity, heating & cooling, and transport 2011- 2016

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Source: European Union (2013 & 2018). EU Energy in figures. Prepared by the author.

This slower increase tendency is explained by Dr. Furfari (2019) who states that the real limitation for renewables is their intermittent nature. Even technological advances (more efficient machines, taller masts or longer blades), it is necessary for more than 2/3 of the time to produce electricity from fossil fuels or nuclear energy due to the lack of wind or solar power. In the foreseen future, it is not possible to even imagine a scenario in which electricity production totally comes from renewable energy[3].

At the end of 2018, the Union approved a new legislative framework for energy (“the Clean Energy for All Europeans” energy package). It established new targets for renewable energy share for 2030: 32% binding at EU level. So the ambition is higher but at what political cost?

The EU as a whole has signed many international agreements on climate change which has an impact within Member States. Thus, the Commission naturally supports integration and works in the long-terms to defend general interests. Nevertheless, Member States behave differently. Some will support renewables because they do not need to sacrifice much or inversely gain a lot from this new type of technology, depending on their structural features such as Sweden. Evidently, others such as Poland will represent the opposition because the transition is more difficult and there is no important economic incentive under the current conditions. As a result, we can clearly see that there are two natural blocks. One supports more political ambition at EU level, while the other will do exactly the opposite.

The problem is that this ambition is very much related to a political perspective –potentially according to the political goal to keep the EU as a global leader in energy transition. The targets should be based on a technical perspective and on assessing the impact on social and economic factors. The 2020 targets were more a political rather than a technical decision and the 20% target in renewables clearly were not feasible for some countries. If we review the statistics (EU Energy in figures, 2013 & 2018), the largest economies are far from the 2020 targets, Germany has increased its share of renewables during 2011-2016 by 0.5 percentage point per year, but it should start increasing by 0.8 per year. One of the most complicated cases is Poland, which has increased only by 0.18 per year during 2011-2016 and it should start increasing by 0.93 per year, more than 5 times what its previous performance! So what can we expect for 2030?

Constancy in politics is important. Research states that keeping binding targets at the national level was a priority[4]. Nevertheless, in the revised directive, at least in the current format, the 2030 targets are not binding for national governments but are binding at the EU level. Even if after a deeper evaluation, we can conclude as Oberthür (2019) did that the EU climate and energy governance is not less stringent or binding[5], the perception of many actors is that the European goals are not taken seriously or that the political conviction has fallen. Neither legal solutions (binding targets) are a real solution because with or without them the structural barriers remain. The legal procedures to push Member States to respect whatever they have promised cannot be the first or primordial tool because they can end up with many infringement proceedings but no common achievements. Instead of this, political consensus should be put first –based in more technical information- in order to avoid disappointments.

The principle of “solidarity” and “trust” through the EU treaties are meaningful in view of this political perspective. The best strategy in a polity like the EU (which has no central government) is to combine strengths of every member and try to mitigate weaknesses of those which have more difficulties towards energy transition. The only way thus to apply solidarity and trust is the identification of those actors and their limitations and interests, by analysing and understanding their structural features. This is a very complicated task because it would eventually demand to hold back the ambition. Nevertheless, we should also evaluate how much the political cost can seriously damage the cohesion and credibility of the Union and the willingness of its Member States.

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[1] European Union (2013). EU Energy in figures. Luxembourg: Publications office. ISBN 978-92-79-30194-0

[2] European Union (2018). EU Energy in figures. Luxembourg: Publications office. ISSN 2363-247X

[3] Furfari, S. (2018) L’électricité intermittente. Une réalité et un prix. Science, climat et énergie. www.science-climat-energie.be/2018/08/21/lelectricite-intermittente-une-realite-et-un-prix/#more-3369

[4] Wyn, T., Khatchadourian, A., Oberthür, S. (2014) EU Governance of Renewable Energy post-2020 – risks and options. A report for the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung European Union.

[5] Oberthür, S. (2019) Hard or Soft Governance? The EU’s Climate and Energy Policy Framework for 2030, Politics and Governance. Volume 7, Issue 1, DOI: 10.17645/pag.v7i1.1796. (ISSN: 2183–2463).

 

J. Joshua Curay Ferrer

Diplomatic Officer of the Republic of Peru, Master in Diplomacy and International Relations from the Diplomatic Academy of Peru, Master in European Integration from the Free University of Brussels – VUB. Vice-consul of Peru to Belgium and Luxembourg.

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