7th Dec 2022

EU to boost solar and renewables rollout to cut Russian gas

  • 'If it takes nine to 10 years [to get a permit] for offshore or onshore wind, then we will never get to the levels we need to get in terms of renewable energy,' EU climate chief Frans Timmermans told a press conference (Photo: European Commission)
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Plans to massively increase solar energy and accelerate the rollout of big EU renewable projects, in the wake of Russia's war on Ukraine, were unveiled by the EU Commission on Wednesday (18 May).

Under the REPower initiative, Europe aims to end its reliance on Russian fossil fuels by 2027. For that, the EU has acknowledged the need to reduce energy consumption in the bloc and scale-up renewable energy massively.

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"If we can actually reduce our energy consumption in combination with a speedier introduction of renewables, we will bring down our emissions even quicker than before," EU climate chief Frans Timmermans told a press conference.

The EU executive proposal will increase the target for renewable energies from 40 percent to 45 percent by 2030, and for energy efficiency from nine to 13 percent.

Under a new dedicated solar strategy, the EU aims to double solar capacity in the EU by 2025 and install 600 gigawatts by 2030 by reducing permitting procedures to a maximum of three months, stepping up investments, and making installations of solar panels compulsory for new public buildings as of 2026 and for new residential buildings as of 2029.

On top of the investment foreseen under previous climate legislations, an additional €26bn will be needed for solar energy investment between now and 2027, according to commission estimates.

Nevertheless, a skills gap has emerged in Europe as the solar industry grows exponentially. And EU member states have been invited to develop training programmes, taking into account female participation.

Businesses, for their part, are encouraged to sign more Power Purchase Agreements (PPA) with solar energy projects to meet their electricity demands.

In addition, Brussels will also identify "go-to areas" for renewables projects in which permits will be simpler and faster. This could potentially include agricultural land, the use of the surface of artificial lakes, or transport infrastructure like motorways.

"If it takes nine to 10 years [to get a permit] for offshore or onshore wind, then we will never get to the levels we need to get in terms of renewable energy," said Timmermans.

To replace Russian natural gas, the commission also wants to boost biomethane, which has similar properties to natural gas, and increase the production and imports of renewable hydrogen — reaching 10m tonnes of domestic production and 10m tonnes of imports by 2030.

Renewables: 'The only way'

Meanwhile, the commission has called on member states to launch energy-saving campaigns and use reduced VAT rates on energy-efficient heating systems, building insulation and appliances and products.

Reducing motorways speed or other behavioural changes, such as taking a bike rather than a car, turning down the heating, not turning on the air conditioning in the summer until the temperature reaches 25 degrees, could cut gas and oil demand by five percent, the commission said.

Additionally, the EU executive wants to double the deployment of heat pumps, phase out subsidies for fossil fuel-based boilers in buildings as of 2025 and to address major renovation in existing buildings.

"More energy efficiency and renewables are the only way to go to tackle the climate crisis and reduce our dependence on expensive Russian gas… [but] consumers still face practical barriers," said the head of the Brussels-based European Consumer Organisation Monique Goyens.

Goyens said long and bureaucratic permits for solar panels, heat pumps or home renovations discourage consumers from investing in energy-efficient solutions on many occasions.

While the acceleration of renewables rollout was generally welcomed, the continued financing of fossil fuel infrastructure with taxpayers' money was criticised.

"Investments that are urgently needed for energy efficiency and renewables can still flow into new pipelines and terminals," said Dutch Green MEP Bas Eickhout, arguing that this scenario might lock in fossil fuel dependencies for a longer time.

MEPs seek full embargo on Russian energy

MEPs called for an immediate and "full" embargo on Russian oil, coal, nuclear fuel, and gas in response to atrocities in Ukraine. But a coal ban is the only likely move for now.

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