EU leaders agreed to merge and strengthen energy networks at their first ever energy summit on 4 February, giving a boost to the renewable energy industry and helping to curb Europe's growing reliance on fossil fuels.
European Commission President José Manuel Barroso told EU leaders that Europe should rein in its annual €310 billion spending – equivalent to 2.5% of GDP – on oil and gas imports.
"Major efforts are needed to modernise and expand Europe's energy infrastructure," a summit accord said.
At the heart of the summit declaration was a realisation that industry is not delivering some critical energy infrastructure and that taxpayers will soon have to step in.
The summit accord acknowledged that further green growth would require a high-tech "smart" power grid – estimated to cost about €200 billion – to carry wind power from the north and solar power from the Mediterranean to central cities such as Paris and Prague.
As well as building such computer-assisted grids, the European Commission was tasked with developing standards for charging electric cars, growing sustainable biofuels and financing an energy grid overhaul.
Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger is now expected to respond before June with a plan for "project bonds" to finance the most crucial gas and power links.
Energy security has been a hot issue in the EU since imports of Russian gas via Ukraine were cut during three weeks of freezing weather in January 2009.
Leaders agreed that funding should be found for strategically useful gas links that industry has ignored in its quest for profits, such as a link across the Pyrenees to carry Algerian gas northwards to Spain.
Oettinger was successful in strengthening his mandate for negotiating with foreign energy suppliers such as Azerbaijan.
France negotiated wording in the declaration to promote its nuclear industry, and Poland did likewise to promote shale gas exploration.
But leaders resoundingly failed to confront the fact that they are on track to fall halfway short of a target to boost energy efficiency by 20% by 2020.
"This is a mistake," said Friends of the Earth Europe campaigner Brook Riley. "The cheapest, cleanest and most secure energy is that which a country doesn't need."
(EURACTIV with Reuters.)