Europe needs to double electricity share to meet climate goals – EU official

53% of Europe’s energy needs to be met by electricity generated from renewables and nuclear by 2050, according to the Commission's long-term strategy. [Asian Development Bank / Flickr]

The European Green Deal to be unveiled in early 2020 will pursue a strategy of increasing the share of electricity in the EU’s energy mix, the new head of the European Commission’s energy department told a conference in Brussels Wednesday (6 November).

“First assessments show we need to double the share of electricity in energy consumption by 2050,” Ditte Juul-Jørgensen said at an event organised by the Electrification Alliance, an industry consortium.

The commission has envisioned this transition as critical to its plan to get the EU to net-zero emissions by 2050. 53% of Europe’s energy needs would be met by electricity generated from renewables and nuclear by mid-century according to the strategy.

It is hoped that EU countries will approve the 2050 plan at the next European Council summit on 12 December. Poland and its Eastern European allies, which have vetoed the plan up till now, may drop its opposition in exchange for funding through a just transition fund. The European Green Deal, expected in March, would then set out a plan for meeting this goal.

Gas and sector integration

Juul-Jørgensen, whose words are being closely watched in Brussels for signs of where energy policy might be going in the new Commission, said that cleaner fossil fuels will have a role to play in generating this electricity in the medium-term.

“We need to distinguish between different fossil fuels,” she said. “They all have a significant carbon imprint, but if you compare greenhouse gas emissions from different types, there are differences. There are less emissions coming from gas than from coal, if we have methane leaks under control.”

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She said one of her main areas of focus to achieve this increase in electricity share will be sector integration. “Since I took over my job on 1 August everyone’s been talking to me about sector integration and coupling as a way to build the green transition.”

At the event, the nine organisations in the alliance signed a declaration calling on the Commission to change EU’s energy taxation regime, which critics say is subsidising fossil fuels and penalising electricity.

They also called for investing in smart electricity grids, mainstreaming direct electrification in the heating, cooling and transport sectors, and increasing EU research and innovation funding in the next seven-year budget to €120 billion, as demanded by the European Parliament. The Commission has proposed €98 billion.

“Electrification must be the dominant way forward in the clean energy transition – and European businesses are prepared to pave the way,” said Laurence Tubiana, CEO of the European Climate Foundation, one of the signatories.

“This, hand in hand with the European Green Deal, is a unique opportunity to carve out the EU’s leadership on climate action and decarbonisation on the global stage”.

Researcher: Lowering electricity taxes is cheapest way of meeting EU climate goals

The energy transition will hit the poor hardest unless it’s balanced by a shift in taxation, says Christian Egenhofer. The EU needs to acknowledge this and get started by lowering taxes on electricity to achieve the EU’s carbon reduction goals at least cost, he argues.

Financing

Juul-Jørgensen said she views financing as the biggest obstacle to achieving the electrification goal. The Commission has identified two means of financing the green transition – 25% dedicated climate financing in the next seven-year EU budget, and dedicated climate lending from the European Investment Bank.

Talks are currently underway to either give the entire EIB a climate remit, or equip it with a significant dedicated funding tool. Juul-Jørgensen said there is now agreement within the European Council on dedicating 25% of the next long-term budget to climate, but there is disagreement about the taxonomy to be used in determining what can count toward that quota.

“For energy policy it’s easier, we can count the emissions that we do,” she said. “There’s a difference between a coal plant and a wind farm. But for my colleagues working in sectoral [departments], like agriculture and industry, the benefits are sometimes indirect.

There’s a challenge in making sure we get it right. But the mainstreaming targets we’ve set ourselves will help clarify this.”

MEP Larrouturou: ‘Entire S&D group wants guarantees on financing European Green Deal’

Incoming EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen should take an extra month or two to negotiate a coalition agreement with the European Parliament, including a new finance-climate pact to support the energy transition, says Pierre Larrouturou, adding he will not vote for the new Commission without additional climate cash.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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