EU says joint-up energy grid will cost €1 trillion
The European Commission has unveiled a new energy strategy for the coming decade, calling for the unification of the bloc's fragmented energy networks by means of €1 trillion in infrastructure investments.
The plan also highlights the need for greater energy savings and a more unified approach when negotiating contracts with non-EU states, together with a new drive to boost Europe's energy technology and innovation. Concrete legislative proposals will follow over the next 18 months.
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"The energy challenge is one of the greatest tests for us all," EU energy commissioner Gunther Oettinger told journalists in Brussels on Wednesday (10 November). "Putting our energy system onto a new, more sustainable and secure path may take time but ambitious decisions need to be taken now."
In order to "Europeanise" the bloc's energy policy, member states must end their protection of national energy champions, said the commissioner, a struggle clearly highlighted by the roughly 40 legal battles currently underway between the EU executive and national capitals.
Previous calls to unify the EU's energy market have met with strong opposition, although Mr Oettinger's German nationality adds considerable weight to this latest initiative, with Berlin traditionally being a leading opponent to market liberalisation.
By linking European gas and oil networks, the commission hopes to prevent future energy crises similar to the gas price dispute between Russia and Ukraine in January 2009, which left several EU states without Russian gas during the height of one of Europe's coldest winters in recent times.
Ahead of the bloc's first European Summit dedicated to energy on 4 February 2011, Mr Oettinger said greater energy efficiency was also a key element of the plan, indicating his intentions to come forward with binding rules in this area.
New incentives will also be unveiled to help homeowners and local authorities to renovate draughty buildings in order to cut energy bills. On Tuesday the European Parliament's energy and industry committees unexpectedly adopted a report calling for binding energy efficiency targets to be implemented across the bloc.
"Making the EU target to reduce energy consumption by 20 percent by 2020 binding will be crucial if it is not to be missed," said French Green MEP Yannick Jadot.
Parliament's Green group was disappointed by the commission's new energy strategy however, saying it showed a "shocking pro-nuclear bias" and dubbed its energy efficiency targets as "vague."
Socialists also called for a greater emphasis on energy efficiency, with a number of environment NGOs in agreement. "Improving energy efficiency is the simplest method to fight climate change and you can see the benefits immediately," Brook Riley, a campaigner with Friends of the Earth, told this website.
The new EU strategy follows a recent report by International Energy Agency that predicts peak oil production around 2035, with prices reaching over $200 a barrel.
Mr Oettinger considers the issue even more pressing. "The amount of oil available globally, I think, has already peaked," he said while presenting the EU plan.