Renewables key to EU energy in 2050

19th December 2011


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European countries must commit to greater adoption of renewable energy and dramatically improve energy efficiency, to ensure a sustainable, low-carbon energy supply by 2050.

In a roadmap examining how EU member states can maintain a stable and affordable energy supply and lower carbon emissions, the European Commission concludes that decarbonisation is not only possible but should not cost more than taking no action at all.

According to the paper, the expense of investing in low-carbon technologies, such as nuclear, renewables and carbon capture and storage (CCS), in the short-term is outweighed by the likely increases in the cost of fossil fuel production and the dependence on fuel sources outside of Europe.

Early investment, it says, will mean increases in electricity bills up to 2030, but that economies of scale across the bloc, the wider economic benefits of new jobs and reliability of an internal energy supply will see prices then begin to fall.

The paper does not prescribe exact mix of generating technologies member states should adopt, saying in particular that it remains “neutral” on the role of nuclear power. It does, however concede that gas will be crucial for reducing emissions from energy until “at least 2030 or 2035” and argues that renewables will be critically important in the long term.

The share of renewable energy must rise dramatically to achieve decarbonisation, providing at least 55% of the energy consumed across the bloc in 2050 and could even provide 97% of energy.

In launching the roadmap, Günther Oettinge, the EU’s energy commissioner, called on European governments to commit themselves to new renewable energy targets stretching beyond the existing 2020 goal of 20% of energy from renewables.

“With our roadmap we want to ensure that, for all participants, there should be an interesting discussion on binding targets for renewables by 2030. This should begin now and lead to a decision in two years' time,” said Oettinge.

Having new targets in place by 2014 would help to answer to perennial complaint of investors and the renewables sector that there is not the political certainty backers need to invest in development projects.

Oettinger said he believed the roadmap will help to combat this moving forwards.

“We now have a European framework for the necessary policy measures to be taken in order to secure the right investments,” he said.

As well as investing in the appropriate infrastructure and embracing a mix of energy generation technologies, energy efficiency was recognised as playing a “critical” role in the future, echoing the conclusions of the UK’s carbon plan published just two weeks before.

According to the European roadmap, by 2050 member states will need to reduce energy consumption by 32%-41% in comparison to energy demand in 2005/2006. It argues that “nearly zero-energy” buildings should become the norm, that products and appliances will have to meet the highest efficiency standards and that smart meters will play a key role in helping consumers and businesses to better manage their energy consumption.

Companies will have a “major role” to play according to the report which concludes that, in manufacturing for example, significant efficiencies can be achieved though better use of resources including recycling, lean manufacturing and extending the lifecycle of products.

Finally, the report argues, governments will have to incentivise behaviour change through greater green taxes, grants or expert advice.

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