29th Sep 2022

MEPs agree higher renewables targets, energy-savings

  • EU member states should achieve a 49-percent renewable energy share in buildings by 2030, MEPs said - but they failed to set national targets (Photo: Stephen Rees)
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The European Parliament on Wednesday (14 September) agreed higher renewable and energy-saving targets for energy consumption in the EU, paving the way for negotiations with EU countries amid the ongoing energy crisis.

MEPs backed the share of renewable energy to be raised to 45 percent by 2030 — up from the 40 percent in the original EU Commission proposal.

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Separately, they also agreed EU member states must collectively reduce energy consumption by at least 40 percent by 2030 (compared to 2007).

The new rules to boost the deployment of renewables would include sectoral targets for transport, buildings, and heating and cooling.

For the transport sectors, for example, renewables should cut greenhouse gas emissions by 16 percent — while MEPs said that EU countries should achieve a 49-percent renewable energy share in buildings by 2030.

Nevertheless, the development of renewables across the EU is likely to remain fragmented across the bloc.

"The EU Parliament has missed an opportunity to reinforce the deployment of renewables in an equitable manner among the member states because in the end there was no majority to establish binding national targets," socialist MEP Nicolas Gonzalez Casares told EUobserver.

In 2020, renewables represented only 22 percent of the energy consumed in the EU, according to Eurostat.

Sweden generates more than half of its energy from renewables (60 percent), followed by Finland (44 percent) and Latvia (42 percent). By contrast, Malta (11 percent), Luxembourg (12 percent) and Belgium (13 percent) were the EU member states with the lowest renewables shares that year.

Is burning trees green?

The role of biomass in the EU's energy mix has been one of the most controversial under the revision of the Renewable Energy Directive (RED).

EU lawmakers agreed to end direct and indirect subsidies supporting burning primary woody biomass — which includes all wood felled, harvested and removed from forests.

Yet, the definition of primary woody biomass includes a long list of exceptions.

While the parliament's environment committee previously agreed to end support for burning trees entirely, MEPs finally managed to pass a compromise that will make woody biomass still considered a source of renewable energy.

This has been condemned by green groups, who argued that MEPs lost an opportunity to protect forests, their ecosystems and the climate.

"Major climate tipping points are closer than previously thought: we don't have the decades needed for trees that are cut and burnt to grow back and recapture the carbon dioxide emitted," said Martin Pigeon, a campaigner at Fern.

They agree to set a cap on the volume of forest biomass counting towards renewable energy targets — taking the average capacity between 2017 and 2022 as the baseline.

The parliament has also called for phasing down the share of biomass counted as renewable energy by 2030, following an impact assessment by the commission.

It is estimated that carbon emissions from burning woody biomass in the EU are now over 400 million metric tonnes per year — similar to the total emissions reported by Poland or Italy.

Homegrown renewables

The crucial vote in Strasbourg comes amid an energy crisis which has prompted the EU to put forward unprecedented measures to curb high energy prices — in a bid to shield consumers and industry.

"The era of cheap fossil fuels is over and the faster we move to cheap, clean and homegrown renewables, the sooner we will be immune to Russia's energy blackmail and anybody else," EU Green Deal chief Frans Timmermans told a press conference on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, a new Oxford University study revealed that turning into a renewables-based economy could save the world €12 trillion.

"The cost of fossil fuel will remain high also after this immediate crisis, so the business case for investing in renewables is huge. That's something we see all across the globe, not just in Europe we see it everywhere," Timmermans said.


Investors in renewables face uncertainty due to EU profits cap

While a cap on revenues from renewables is aimed at redirecting excess profits from low-cost electricity generation back to consumers, analysts and industry groups argue such measures come with risks — and at a bad time.

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