EU warned about ‘lost decade’ for renewables as costs continue to fall

One key ingredient to keep the European renewable industry competitive is to raise the EU’s 2030 renewables target to 35%, says Giles Dickson, CEO of WindEurope. [David Clarke / Flickr]

The cost of generating electricity from renewable energies is set to reach new lows worldwide, according to projections by the International Renewable Energy Association (IRENA), published on Saturday (13 January).

But much of the expected growth in solar and wind power generation could happen outside of Europe, because of stalling policies there, EU lawmakers and industry representatives have warned.

The cost of generating power from onshore wind has fallen by around a quarter since 2010, with solar photovoltaic (PV) electricity costs falling by 73% in that time, according to a new cost analysis from IRENA.

By 2019, the best onshore wind and solar PV projects will be delivering electricity for an equivalent of $3 cents/kWh or less, down from a current average of $6-10 cents respectively, IRENA said. Fossil fuel power generation currently stands at $5-17 cents/kWh, making renewable energies more competitive than ever.

“Turning to renewables for new power generation is not simply an environmentally conscious decision, it is now – overwhelmingly – a smart economic one,” said Adnan Z. Amin, the Director-General of IRENA.

“These cost declines across technologies are unprecedented and representative of the degree to which renewable energy is disrupting the global energy system,” he said.

Rise of cheap renewables disrupts EU energy plans for 2030

The rapid fall in costs of wind and solar power, combined with flexible demand technology, could replace “more than half” of coal and gas-powered electricity in Europe by 2030, according to new research published on Tuesday (21 November).

The report was published in Abu Dhabi on the first day of IRENA’s Eighth Assembly, and only days before a European Parliament vote on the revised Renewable Energy Directive, scheduled for Wednesday (17 January).

MEPs have previously backed a 35% share for renewable energies by 2030, up from the 27% decided by EU heads of states and governments back in 2014. But the costs of renewables have fallen down sharply since then, making the EU’s 27% target looking increasingly outdated.

Even the European Commission admitted that a 30% renewables target would be “affordable” and cost “roughly the same” to EU countries.

Sefcovic says 30% renewables target ‘affordable’ for 2030

The “impressive fall” in renewable energy prices has persuaded the European Commission to update its long-term energy projections for 2030, said Maroš Šefčovič, the EU’s Vice President in charge of the Energy Union.

Lost decade

Critics say the 27% target is in fact mere business as usual, and would even represent a “lost decade” for renewable energy development in Europe.

“What is at stake? To put it bluntly, the question is very simple: Will the Parliament save the climate and environmental integrity of the EU?” said Claude Turmes, a Green MEP from Luxembourg who is steering the Parliament’s position on a proposed EU regulation on the governance of the Energy Union.

“Basically what Europe is doing is organising a lost decade” for climate change and renewable energy policy in the next decade up to 2030, Turmes said.

The warning from Turmes was echoed by WindEurope, a trade association.

“Europe has strong renewable energy industries. But their global competitiveness is not a given,” said Giles Dickson, the CEO of WindEurope.

“To keep reducing costs and to stay at the forefront of technology development, they need a strong domestic European market. Without that we won’t have the scale to invest in our manufacturing in Europe, and jobs will be lost,” Dickson warned.

According to WindEurope, “one key ingredient” to keep the European renewable industry competitive “is to raise the EU’s 2030 renewables target to 35%,” in line with the European Parliament’s demands. “Another is to keep a linear trajectory for new renewables deployment in the 2020s as the Commission proposed,” Dickson said.

Renewables have recently broken a number records in Europe, generating more electricity than fossil fuels in the UK in 2017, for the first time covering 100% of German power use over a day, and wind power providing 43% of Denmark’s energy in 2017.

Corporate giants urge EU to back 35% renewables target

A coalition comprising some of the world’s biggest companies has urged EU energy ministers to back a 35% target for renewable energy when they meet in Brussels next Monday (18 December).

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