Five EU countries call for 100% renewable energy by 2050

Luxembourg's Claude Turmes speaks to media, 9 October 2018. [Photo: EPA-EFE/JULIEN WARNAND]

The European Union’s 28 energy ministers had their first public debate on the European Commission’s 2050 climate plan on Monday (4 March) but five member states derided the lack of a 100% renewable energy scenario among the EU executive’s proposed options.

The Commission’s Clean Planet for All strategy, which debuted in November 2018, offers EU countries eight different emission-cutting scenarios to make Europe’s economy compliant with the Paris Agreement on climate change by mid-century.

EU member states are expected to dissect the plan and decide what option they want to adopt this year.

Luxembourg’s energy minister, Claude Turmes, kicked off proceedings by telling his colleagues that “you can forget six out of eight of the scenarios”, dismissing them as inadequate to stick to the Paris deal.

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Turmes also criticised the other two options, which aim for net-zero emission cuts by 2050, for lacking transparency and urged the Commission to reveal the figures and statistics behind its conclusions.

“The Juncker Commission is suggesting that we should build 50 or 60 new nuclear reactors by 2050. It’s not a good neighbourly policy with which to threaten EU citizens,” said the former member of the European Parliament from Luxembourg.

He added that the lack of a 100% renewable energy option is also problematic and suggested that an honest debate about the EU’s future energy and climate policy cannot be held while the strategy is “incomplete”.

A few member states, including Spain, have already announced that they are aiming for a completely renewable electricity system, but Turmes was referring to a 100% renewable energy system, which includes heating, cooling, transport and other drains on power.

The Luxembourger was joined in his call by his Austrian, Irish, Lithuanian and Spanish counterparts, while Finnish minister Kimmo Tiilikainen said his country aims to use its stint in charge of the EU presidency later this year to adopt conclusions.

EU governments effectively have carte blanche to do as they wish with the Commission’s document, as it is not a legally binding text. EURACTIV understands that Luxembourg or any other member states could propose the renewables option themselves, if they put the work in.

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Next top model

Some energy experts have actually already done that work for the Commission and modelled their own examples of pan-European and even global energy systems that run exclusively on renewables.

Danish academic Dr Brian Vad Mathiesen is one of those experts and he told EURACTIV that he was “genuinely surprised that the Commission did not include this option in the first place”.

He also agreed with Claude Turmes’ assessment that it will be difficult to have a proper debate about 2050 without a 100% scenario, questioning why the EU executive “did not go the full Monty. A lot of technology is going to change by 2050.”

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Mathiesen also said that the Commission’s first six scenarios can be ignored and that its two most ambitious scenarios, which focus on circular economy and negative emissions tech like carbon capture, are essentially not that different to one another.

“To have a debate on this you need to look at full renewables penetration of transport, heating, cooling. Everything. There needs to be more options,” he concluded.

Researchers from Finland’s Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT) recently unveiled their own model of a 100% system, which would involve 20 independent European regions or “islands” connected together through a “super grid”.

Study author Christian Breyer welcomed that EU ministers now have the idea on their radars and told EURACTIV that “100% renewable energy is the only option” because nuclear energy costs and developing carbon-capture-storage are too expensive.

He added that the LUT study is just one example of a whole raft of peer-reviewed studies that show how clean energy systems can be rolled out.

At the energy council’s Monday meeting, several ministers mentioned the concept of ‘energy prosumers’. Breyer’s study includes the effect of citizens that both produce and consume power in its model. The findings showed that it would lower costs across the continent.

Monday’s Energy Council meeting was the second chance for ministers to share their views on the Commission’s draft strategy, after a competition council began the process earlier this year. The third open debate on the 2050 plan will be held on Tuesday (5 March) when environment ministers hash out the draft strategy.

EU leaders will meet in Romania on 9 May and are expected to put their cards on the table ahead of a landmark UN summit in September on climate change.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon and Zoran Radosavljevic]

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