EU on track to meet 2020 renewables targets

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This article is part of our special report Wind Energy.

Europe is set to beat its target of drawing 20% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, according to an analysis of national action plans by the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA).

The group has collated European Commission figures which show that 20.7% of energy consumption – and 34% of electricity demand – will be met by energy sources such as wind, hydro, solar and biomass power by the decade's end.

Of the 15 member states that say they plan to exceed their national targets, Bulgaria, Spain and Greece lead the way with surpluses of 2.8%, 2.7% and 2.2% respectively. Only Luxembourg and Italy informed the Commission that they would need to use 'cooperation mechanisms' to meet their targets.

A cooperation mechanism allows a country to meet its obligations by developing renewable energy in another country.  

Julian Scola, communications director at EWEA, told EURACTIV that he hoped the EU's 27 member states would not now rest on their laurels. "There is still a lot to be done to achieve these targets," he said.

"Wind farms need to be erected, the grid has to be improved, grid access has to be enabled and the permitting process has to be sped up. There are very long administrative delays in building wind farms and this is problematic for some countries. We'll certainly be watching over the coming years to make sure that no complacency starts creeping in."

Nevertheless, as far as renewables are concerned, environmentalists have grounds for optimism. In 2009, wind power alone accounted for 39% of all new European energy capacity installed and by 2020, the technology was expected to supply some 14% of Europe's electricity. At the end of 2010, around 11.6% of Europe's electricity came from renewables.

According to a little-publicised European Commission report on 'EU energy trends to 2030', the Commission expects 64% of new energy capacity installed in the decade from 2011-2020 to come from renewables. Wind power would account for 41% of all new installations.

Jason Anderson, WWF's head of European climate change and energy policy, welcomed the news that the EU was on track to meet its 2020 renewables target, but also sounded a note of caution.

"The fact that the national action plans are calling for [renewable energy] levels that exceed 20% is encouraging," he said. "It will hopefully give more countries the confidence to say that, when looking towards 2050, 'we can be even more ambitious'. But not too many have made the necessary preparations to actually do that, at this stage."

Julian Scola, communications director at the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA), said "we are very positive about the prospects for renewables".

"There has been tremendous growth in wind energy in recent years and we are completely confident and sure that Europe can make the switch to renewable energy and end its dependence on fossil fuels. It will create value for local communities and jobs in the European economy too. It makes far more sense than for Europe to invest in paying others to export their fossil fuels here," Scola explained.

Jason Anderson, head of European climate change and energy policy at WWF, said "these plans are facilitative, but the targets remain binding and that has repercussions".

"Other kinds of energy production – such as coal, electricity or gas heating - don't have binding targets. So if you're considering your energy investment options, the one with a national binding target is probably the one you'll pay most attention to. In the constrained environment right now, we're seeing interest in coal-fired power stations dropping off significantly whereas wind power and other renewables are doing relatively well," he explained.

On 30 June 2009, the European Commission adopted its national renewable energy action plans (NREAPs) framework, requiring member states to explain how they would meet a binding target of providing for 20% of their energy consumption from renewable sources.

Member states were forced to provide sectoral targets for the proportion of renewable energy they would use in transport, electricity, heating and cooling, and offer a road map for getting there. They were also obliged to submit future implementation reports every two years.

Member states must also spell out what steps they are taking to cut red tape on administrative procedures and explain any "unnecessary obstacles".  To further help the integration of renewable electricity into the grid, infrastructure development plans have to be reported, including reinforcement of interconnections with neighbouring countries. 

Although each member state was required to submit its plans to the Commission by 30 June 2010, Hungary did not in fact submit its proposals until near the end of 2010. Should the EU executive rule a plan insufficient, it can start infringement proceedings against the member state concerned.

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