The European Union is on the right track for its 2020 renewables targets but will not receive real returns on investment until after that period, says a new Greenpeace EU report.
Greenpeace said Europe needs to carry on taking the lead in establishing a renewables-based energy sector but must set firm policy targets for 2030. The report, released yesterday (24 October), was carried out with the Renewable Energy Council (EREC) and the German Aerospace Center, or DLR.
Without legally binding policy action and increased investment, Europe risked passing above a global temperature increase of 2°C, to disastrous effect, analysts said.
Sven Teske, a senior energy expert with Greenpeace International, said at EU level gross energy consumption fell for the period 2008-2010, while consumption of renewables rose in the same period.
Renewables provided 12.5% of energy consumption in 2010, exceeding the interim target of 10.7% laid out in the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive.
Josche Muth, EREC secretary-general, told reporters investment in renewable heat generation technologies needed to go from €736 billion – as predicted by the International Energy Agency – to €2.94 trillion for the period 2011-2050.
Muth said up until 2020 renewables would need higher levels of investment than savings compared to the use of conventional fossil fuels.
But he said the scenario would “become more interesting after 2020”, forecasting a two-fold return on investment after that period.
The report notes that because renewable energy has no fuel costs, the cost savings in the energy evolution scenario reach €3 trillion up to 2050 – €75 billion per year.
Teske said fuel cost savings from renewables could eventually protect Europe from dependency on fossil energy. Each year Europe sends 2.5% of its GDP overseas for energy imports.
“Every €1 rise in the price of oil costs Europeans over €400 million a month”, Teske said.
Frederic Thoma, a Greenpeace EU energy policy advisor, said that despite surpassing 2010 renewables targets, the EU was “lagging behind in greenhouse gas emission and energy efficiency targets.”
Vast amounts of energy are lost in centralised systems, such as coal, gas or nuclear plants, the study said.
Teske told EurActiv that approximately 70% of energy production from a centralised system was lost through heat, compared to only 30% for decentralised, or on-site, generation.
The report calls for increased investment in more efficient energy infrastructure, such as smart interactive and transmission grids to transport large quantities of offshore wind and concentrated solar power.
Despite reports that current EU bioenergy policies could even be increasing greenhouse gas emissions, the report said carbon-emitting biofuels – which include corn, biodiesels and bio-ethanol – needed to remain a pillar of electricity and heat supply.
However, the report urged the EU to impose “full and timely” sustainability criteria for biofuels and biomass and address related indirect land use change (ILUC) impacts.
Biomass accounts for 14% of renewables’ 19% share of heat supply.
The report called for the EU to phase out all subsidies for fossil fuels and transport technologies.
“Government support is still propping up conventional energy technologies, hindering the uptake of renewable energy sources and energy savings”, it said. Philippe Vermeulen, general manager for the Belgian division of energy investors EnerVest, had previously told EurActiv that varying subsidy systems in different countries was the main obstacle towards a competitive photovoltaics market.
Furthermore, a report by the WWF, also released today, said fossil fuels subsidies distorted the carbon market, or emissions trading scheme.
“Fossil fuel is more often subsidised than taxed”, the report said.
Greenpeace and the WWF both said they thought it would make more sense to divert these subsidies towards supporting investment in renewables.
“Targeted subsidies [for renewables] bring down the costs of low carbon technologies, creating options which can be deployed cost-effectively in the future.”
The EU has set a legally binding goal to reduce its emissions by 20% from 1990 levels by 2020. Moreover, it has pledged to raise this to 30% if other countries make comparable commitments.
The EU agreed a new Renewable Energy Directive in December 2008, which turns into law its binding target to source 20% of the bloc's energy from renewable sources by 2020.
In October 2009, EU leaders endorsed a long-term target of reducing collective developed country emissions by 80-95% by 2050 compared to 1990 levels. This is in line with the recommendations of the UN's scientific arm - the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - for preventing catastrophic changes to the Earth's climate.
- 2014: Energy Commissioner Gunther Oettinger has said he wants a decision taken on binding renewables targets for 2030 by the end of the Commission's current term in 2014
- 2020: Deadline for the EU's three climate goals to be met: a 20% cut in CO2 emissions measure on 1990 levels; a 20% increase in the share of renewables in the continent's energy mix, also using the 1990 baseline, and a non-binding 20% increase in energy efficiency, measured against 2005 levels.
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