“I cannot exclude that we will be in gas, particularly gas flaring projects,” Piebalgs said yesterday (16 April).
“We would like to support a very clean energy mix [and] in some cases gas could be supported. At least I would not exclude it a priori.”
But “no nuclear,” he stressed. “It’s very clear, and I would say also no coal. Our intention is not to look at biofuels [either].”
Piebalgs later clarified that he did not foresee a big gas investment and that the money he was talking about could also be used for environmental impact assessments and using natural gas that is now flared.
Gas is currently a hot-button topic as the UK, France, Poland and the Czech Republic reportedly mount a behind-the-scenes push for the EU’s future climate milestones to be sculpted around ‘low-carbon’ targets – including gas and nuclear – rather than renewable energy.
One strong opponent of such moves, Claude Turmes, the vice-chairman of the Green Party in the European Parliament, expressed understanding of Piebalgs’ position.
“Gas flaring projects can save CO2 in the atmosphere and save greenhouse gases,” he told EurActiv. “These projects should be analysed in detail and be subject to detailed scrutiny before going ahead.”
“But it should not be a priority of the development commissioner because it’s not alleviating energy poverty,” he said.
Energy Development Initiative
Piebalgs was speaking shortly after the launch of a €50 million ‘Energy Development’ initiative to help poorer countries that ‘opt in’ to a series of EU reforms, with capacity building and policy development programmes, designed to entice private investment.
The EU is the world’s leading donor of energy development aid, providing €278.5 million in 2010, and around €1 billion in the last five years, mostly, the EU says, as seed money to leverage private-sector funds at a ratio of 20:1.
Of that €1 billion, “roughly half” was spent on renewable energy projects, Piebalgs said. The rest was mostly spent on inter-connectors, "which could also carry electricity produced from fossil fuels," Piebalgs said, "but it was never the main reason.”
“If you interconnect the countries - or parts of them - then the energy can be used more broadly,” he continued. But the EU’s focus was primarily on renewables, Piebalgs made clear.
The Energising Development initiative was hailed as “ground-breaking” by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and called a “game-changer” by the European Commission President José Manuel Barroso.
But development organisations questioned whether it would live up to the hype, with Marc Olivier Herman, an Oxfam spokesman decrying the €50 million announced yesterday as “absolute peanuts”.
The initiative was conceived as a public-private project that would support the UN’s Sustainable Energy for All package launched in January. Its goals for 2030 include:
- Universal energy access for 500 million people.
- A doubling of the share of renewables in the global energy mix.
- A doubling of the global energy intensity rate.
Decarbonisation was fully compatible with all of these, in Piebalgs’ view.
“A windmill or a solar project doesn’t require a big grid so our focus is mostly on this part of the road,” he said. “I think [decarbonisation] is doable because there is a lot of renewable potential in developing countries.”
Some 1.5 billion people around the world are currently estimated to lack access to energy supplies, UN figures show. The problem is particularly acute in sub-Saharan Africa, where electrification is only enjoyed by 31% of people, and in rural areas less than 10%.
Given the scale of the energy crisis in the developing world, Barroso said that a 30% increase in EU investment was needed by 2030.
“In the short term we’re looking to provide another €750 million over the next two years for renewable energy projects,” he told an audience in Brussels. “This support will leverage the same amount many times over.”
The UN Development Programme estimates that by 2030, the move to clean energy will cost between $249 billion and $1.37 trillion.