Sefcovic: France and EU ‘on the same wavelength’ on the energy transition

Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič praised France's energy efforts. [EURACTIV Energy]

Europe’s energy transition is irreversible and France is poised to become its leader, European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič said at an event in Paris on Thursday (5 October).

“Europe needs to advance together,” Šefčovič said, stressing the importance of Energy Union governance in achieving Europe’s goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020 and raising the share of renewables in the bloc’s energy mix.

“We made commitments in Paris in 2015 and that is why we need to plan, to discuss the issues with the national parliaments and stakeholders all over Europe,” the Energy Union boss said, addressing a conference on the energy transition in France, hosted by EURACTIV in Paris.

He praised French President Emmanuel Macron for his European outlook and his insistence on the need for a coherent energy and industrial policy, driven by cooperation at EU level, as well as his calls for increased interconnection of the EU’s energy markets.

In July, France adopted its energy transition law, which the Commission vice-president said would help the country respond to the main challenges Europe faces. “I am particularly pleased with the government’s promise to set aside €9bn as a lever to create a wave of investment in thermal renovation in France,” he said.

The new law foresees an atomic power share of the electricity energy mix of just 50% in 2030, decreasing from its current 75%. Renewables are set to take a 40% share and total carbon neutrality is earmarked for 2050.

Buildings currently account for some 40% of the EU’s final energy consumption and renovation rates are stuck at around 1% per year.

“France and the EU are on the same wavelength when it comes to the energy transition,” Šefčovič said.

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EU must move faster

The EU is moving in the right direction towards its climate and energy targets. For the first time in 2015, growth in renewables outstripped growth in fossil fuels, accounting for more than 50% of the EU’s new energy capacity.

But this growth is still too slow to meet the bloc’s target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020.

“Renewables accounted for 16.7% of final consumption in the EU in 2015,” Šefčovič said. “This is good but we have to increase our efforts if we are to reach the 20% target by 2020.”

For the Commission vice-president, this is a clear call for more cooperation between stakeholders at all levels across EU countries.

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The European Parliament on Wednesday (3 October) backed a resolution that calls on the EU to increase its 2030 climate targets and to come up with a mid-century zero-emissions strategy by an all-important UN summit in 2018.

Huge investments needed

“We need to present our vision of how our countries will produce, distribute and consume energy in 2030,” Šefčovič said. “And we need to demonstrate how we plan to build a carbon neutral economy by mid-century.”

Making Europe carbon neutral will require investments of some €3.4bn every year until the mid-21st century, energy industry figures estimate. But without the kind of certainty that coherent EU-wide policymaking can bring, investors will simply not be found.

For Michel Derdevet, secretary-general of Enedis, the company that manages the French electricity network, the EU should focus its attention on how consumers access their renewable energy.

“Wind and solar generation needs space that is simply not available in cities,” Derdevet said, stressing that populations are increasingly concentrated in a small number major population centres.

According to Anne Bringault, from Climate Action Network, cities are able to generate around half of the energy they need. The other half will have to be generated outside the city, or even in some cases further afield. Interconnection of EU energy markets can help here.

“Optimising the networks that deliver energy to these people is an inherently European challenge,” Derdevet said. “There is no point in doing this at a national level.”

Green MEP Claude Turmes agreed, adding: “Governments cannot win this battle on their own.”

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