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10th Jul 2020

Bigger renewable energy targets feasible, says study

  • Since 2014 there have been significant cost reductions in renewable energy, especially in solar panels and offshore wind (Photo: Kim Hansen)

The European Union can reach a 34 percent share of renewable energy by 2030 in order to meet its Paris agreement emission reduction criteria, according to a recent report by the intergovernmental International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

If achieved, the 34 percent target would also help the bloc to boost jobs creation and competitiveness, whilst the target is "technically feasible", according to the report.

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The study, funded by the European Commission, was published last week, ahead of the start on Tuesday (27 February) of negotiations between the commission, parliament and council – the 'trilogue' - on renewable energy.

During those negotiations, the three institutions will crunch the final form of the 2016 commission's renewable energy directive, that will set the the binding target of renewable energy sources in EU energy consumption for the 2020-2030 period.

Currently the EU is expected to reach a renewable share in its energy mix of 27 percent by 2030, after member states agreed on the target in 2014.

Tough discussions

The outcome of the negotiations will concern renewable electricity, cleaner heating and cooling, and decarbonised transport and will have implications for the EU environment, investors and industry.

Speaking during the presentation of the report, last Monday (19 February), climate and energy commissioner Miguel Arias Canete said that the three EU bodies "will try to broker an honest agreement for the planet and for citizens."

However, the trilogue is expected to result in a heated confrontation, especially over the divergent targets that the parliament and council have for renewables.

The proposal of the parliament, agreed in January, calls for a improvement of the share of renewable energy to "at least 35 percent" of the EU's energy mix by 2030 - close to the target IRENA suggests in its report.

On the council side, heads of state and government agreed in December 2017 to keep the 27 percent target already established in 2014, a position that provoked a general disappointmentof the environmental lobby groups.

Canete said that he hopes for a "balanced compromise" between the positions of the institutions.

But the council's proposal is not in line with a "cost efficiency" approach nor with the purpose of achieving the goals of the Paris agreement, S&D MEP Jose Blanco Lopez, noted.

The solution should be "in line" with the threat from climate change and "the future of the planet should prevail", Lopez, who is rapporteur of the parliament's directive on renewables, added.

Zhecho Stankov, Bulgarian deputy energy minister, called instead for a "win-win solution" for European citizens and industry.

Both potential developments and "national specificities" need to be taken into account for creating a compromise, Stankov said.

A technically feasible target

According to IRENA, the percentage of EU renewables has significantly grown in the last years - mainly thanks to technological developments and cost reductions - from nine percent in 2005 to a 16.7 percent of the total share in 2015.

Major cost reductions, especially in solar panels and offshore wind, have taken place since 2014, helping the EU to be on track for meeting its 2020 renewables target of 20 percent of the total energy, the report explains.

For these reasons, Canete said that the 27 percent objective is "not very far from 'business as usual'."

On the other hand, a 34 percent target would be "technically feasible, economically viable and beneficial," IRENA's general director Adnan Amin said.

According to the report, the share of renewable energy in the power sector could rise to 50 percent by 2030, while it could account for 42 percent of energy in buildings, 36 percent in industry and 17 percent in transport.

To meet the 34 percent objective, an average investment of €62 billion per year by 2030 would be required, experts said during the presentation.

Additional costs are however "outweighed by the benefits" when health and environmental externalities are considered, reaching savings between €44bn to €113bn per year, Amin explained.

IRENA's general director pointed out that currently about 400,000 people die prematurely in Europe each year because of air pollution.

Positive aspects in the job creation should also be taken into account, since there are 1.2 million people now working in the sector, and the number could increase significantly, Amin said.

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