Europe must agree 2030 milestones as soon as possible to spur investment in renewable energy, or green power growth will fizzle once firm policy runs out in 2020, the European Commission said on Wednesday (6 June) in its latest strategy statement.

Many in the renewable energy sector agree there is a need for strong guidance, but want binding targets, rather than vague aims. At the other extreme, some of the 27 member states are strongly opposed to legal goals for renewables.

The EU currently has a firm target to increase the share of renewable energy in the mix to 20% on 1990 levels by 2020, which analysts and industry say it should meet and could exceed.

Other goals include a 20% cut on Europe’s 1990 carbon emissions level, and a non-binding 20% improvement on the continent’s 2005 energy efficiency standard.

But the renewables communication only lays out scenarios for moving on from the 20% renewables binding goal.

“We should continue to develop renewable energy and promote innovative solutions. We have to do it in a cost-efficient way,” Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said in a statement.

“This means producing wind and solar power where it makes economic sense and trading it within Europe, as we do for other products and services.”

The Commission says that better coordination is needed across member states, so that renewables, such as solar and wind, can be generated wherever they are cheapest.

It also says ‘support schemes’ should be consistent across the bloc and reiterates its backing for an integrated market with connections to northern Africa, where it sees the potential for large-scale solar generation to supply Europe.

Beyond 2020

Looking beyond 2020, Oettinger has said he wants agreement on a new policy regime before the end of the current Commission, whose mandate expires in 2014.

“Without a suitable framework (after 2020) renewable energy growth will slump,” the Commission said in a statement.

Options include new goals for emissions cuts, but no goals for renewable energy, which would leave the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) as the main instrument to cut carbon emissions and encourage renewable energy.

Britain, for instance, wants an emphasis on the carbon goal and argues that a renewable goal might disadvantage other low carbon energy generation, such as nuclear or even gas.

Many in the renewable industry say the collapse of the ETS to less than €7, far below the €20-€50 analysts believe necessary to spur investment, demonstrates the value of targets.

A second option outlined in the Commission document would be to replace the three 2020 targets with three 2030 targets. This could take the form of national or EU-wide targets.

Binding targets

The European Renewable Energy Council (EREC), the umbrella group for Europe’s renewable energy industry, has proposed a binding target to ensure renewables make up 45% of the energy mix by 2030.

“This is not something that's really impossible,” said Arthouros Zervos, EREC president and chief executive of Greece's biggest electricity producer, PPC.

EREC also wants the EU’s CO2 cuts target for 2020 raised from 20% to 30%.

Zervos called for a stable policy on subsidies for renewables, arguing that fossil fuel subsidies were much higher than those for green energy, and “negative, disruptive changes” and retroactive changes were a particular problem.

EWEA says that strong growth in renewables to 2030 could generate more than 3 million jobs.