European Energy Transition
New energy technologies
The solutions governments individually and collectively propose for the energy crisis vary widely, but they are all united in the hope for a techno-fix to magic-wand away the environmental, economic, social and political problems beleaguering them all.
There are two main reasons why a great deal of research and investment is being made into finding alternative sources of energy:
1. The environmental cumulative cost of the exponential growth in energy demand has long been unsustainable.
2. Cost and security of supply: western governments have long profited from the monopolisation of energy suppliers, but wildly fluctuating prices for all commodities and international conflicts and tensions have led to an international marketplace with no certain future.
Given the scale and ever-increasing seriousness of both these problems, the need to diversify the energy mix, and to transition in a controlled way to a sustainable energy paradigm, has become a primary goal of many governments. In addition to their own domestic needs, developed nations have also become aware of the need to encourage and enable emerging and developing countries to choose a development path that forecloses traditional, dirty energy options as much as possible.
The search for alternatives falls into two categories: 1. mobility, or fuel for vehicles; 2. electricity generation.
EU Energy Strategy
The current energy policy for the EU is based on the 2006 Green Paper on "A European Strategy for Sustainable, Competitive and Secure Energy Supply" (European Commission), which opened a wide debate on an independent energy policy of the European Union. The energy strategy, published in January 2007, presents key objectives and measures on climate protection and renewable energies. Amongst other things, it aims to raise the percentage of renewable energy to 20% by 2020.
Pursuant to the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, energy policy acts are usually based either on Article 95 of the EC Treaty (internal market) or Article 175 of the EC Treaty (environmental policy).
January 2007 Strategic Energy Review I. The strategy is to be reviewed approximately every two years.
It has 3 simultaneous targets:
- 1. Combat climate change,
- 2. Reduce dependence on fossil fuel imports,
- 3. Promote growth and employment through a competitive energy supply.
These are also known as the three pillars: energy security, sustainability and competitiveness.
The Commission's energy strategy for 2010 was set with long-term targets for 2050, with an Energy Action Plan for 2011-2020. This draft covers the topics of the energy market, energy efficiency, consumer protection, research and development, and the external energy relations of the EU. The CO2 emissions should be reduced by 80-95% compared to the level in 1990.
The Energy Union is designed to reduce Europe's dependence on fossil raw material imports, to increase energy efficiency, and to make Europe the world's leading force in the expansion of renewable energies.
There are five areas in the energy strategy adopted by the European Council in March 2007 to help meet the three long-term energy policy objectives: the natural gas and electricity market, energy security, energy efficiency and renewables, energy technologies, and external energy policy.
Energy Union Strategy
Passed in October, 2014, this is an integrated climate and energy policy framework, setting out a coordinated approach to the 2030 targets for EU member states. It covers energy security, a fully integrated European energy market, energy efficiency and lowering of demand, decarbonisation of the economy, and research and innovation to maintain competitiveness.
Decarbonisation Plan of the EU
Decarbonisation in the sense of climate mitigation is the process of eliminating as much as possible the use of fossil fuels for electricity generation, vehicle transport, and any other application which may lead to the release of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, methane or other carbon-based compound into the atmosphere, especially when that gas is a known greenhouse gas.
The EU is the world's driving force in responsible energy transition policies. It has agreed unanimously, through a series of directives, to attempt to eliminate fossil fuels from all energy applications by at least 80% by 2050. A Europe that is 100% free of carbon could also be possibility under some scenarios. However, the 80% target is considered to be sufficiently high enough to ensure a radical series of changes are brought about.
Not only will eliminating fossil fuels create better and safer living conditions for humans, and a healthier natural environment, it will also lead to a more successful and more sustainable economy, and hedge against the liabilities the scenario of business as usual leave open. The security of energy supply, given the international trends to less and less reliable neighbours, is an ever increasing threat to the stability and prosperity of Europe.
No region on Earth has shown more global leadership and commitment in the cause of combating climate change than the EU. In October 2009, the European Council of heads of state and government launched a policy designed around the parameter of limiting anthropogenic warming to 2°C. The objective is to reduce GHG emissions in the EU by 80-95% over 1990 by 2050. This amounts to approximately 1% less fossil fuel combustion per year for four decades.
In 2009, the EU adopted the 20-20-20 commitment. This agreement has two binding elements: 20% reduction in GHG emissions compared to 1990, and 20% of final energy consumption would be from renewable sources. A non-binding target of 20% improvement in energy efficiency by 2020 over projections with business-as-usual practices.
Other and subsequent directives include: the Energy Efficiency directive (2012/27/EU), a revised Emissions Trading Directive (2009/29/EC), a new Renewable Energy Directive (2009/28/EC), a legal framework for Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) (2009/31/EC), the new Effort Sharing Decision (which covers reductions not covered by the ETS - Emissions Trading System) (No. 406/2009/EC).
Other agreements affecting the EU include the Doha amendment to the Kyoto Protocol (adopted in 2012), under which the EU is committed internationally to reducing GHG emissions by 20% over 1990 during the 2nd commitment period to the protocol (2013-2020). Regulation (EU) No 517/2014 on fluorinated GHGs. Regulation (EU) No 333/2014 on CO2 emissions of passenger cars.
The second stage in the decarbonisation programme of the EU is to ensure that carbon energy sources are not locked in during the 2020s. Power stations built now will still be operating in 2050, so the key to achieving close to zero carbon emissions by mid-century is to prevent carbon power stations being built to replace old stations as they go out of service.
The 2030 targets agreed by the EU in January 2014, are for a 40% reduction in greenhouse gases, at least 27% of all electricity generation will be from renewable sources, and efficiency improvement of 30% over 2008. Given that Germany has already met the renewables target, there is a lobby pushing for more ambitious targets than these, fearing that too much leeway was made for the retention of fossil fuels.
EU GHG reductions to 2012
The EU-15 countries, which were involved as the EU in the 1992 UNFCCC treaty, and subsequent 1996 Kyoto Protocol, were set a target of an 8% reduction in GHGs by the end of the Kyoto 1st term, 2008-2012. By 2012, the EU-15 had collectively exceeded this target and reduced GHG emissions by 15%.
Not to be outdone, the 28 nations of the current EU have achieved a 19% reduction in GHGs. Mind you, it is easier to reduce by percentage when you start from a higher level, which the eastern European countries did.
As of January 2014, the EC (European Council) has adopted a new policy framework for climate and energy policy to 2030, generally considered an interim stage to the almost complete decarbonisation ambition by 2050. This policy has the target of 40% GHG reductions and 27% renewables (of final energy consumption), as binding targets. And a non-binding 27% compromise target for energy efficiency helps to ensure the percentage targets are meaningful as an impact on climate change.
The general impression of the author is that most experts consider the 2030 targets to be Realpolitik compromises, and will not be sufficient to achieve the decarbonisation goal.