Member states’ answer to low renewables ambition: Interim targets

The Estonian Presidency of the EU has floated interim targets for Europe's share of renewable energy up to 2030 as a compromise proposal to win over support from countries pushing for a higher level of ambition. [Jan Arne Wold / © Statoil]

The European Parliament says the EU’s proposed 2030 target for renewable energy needs to be raised in order to speed up deployment early in the next decade. But EU member states have a different idea.

This week, the Parliament’s Committee on Industry, Research and Energy voted to raise the proposed target for the share of renewables in the EU’s energy mix, from the Commission’s proposed 27% to 35%.

It comes on the heels of last week’s comments from Maroš Šefčovič, the EU’s vice president for the Energy Union, who said studies backing a 27% target should be updated  in light of the rapid fall in renewable energy prices in recent years.

“The costs of reaching the 27% and 30% target are roughly the same,” Šefčovič explained, saying he would present an updated modelling of projected renewable energy costs for 2030.

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.

This has built up pressure on the 28 EU member states to raise their level of ambition when they finalise their common position at an EU Council meeting on 20 December.

Pawel Wrobel, director of the Brussels office of Polish electricity association PKEE, says the pressure will most likely result in a raising of the target.

“There is a logical process in Brussels – if the Commission proposed 27%, and Parliament 35%, then the landing zone should be something between them,” he said.

“If the Commission is sending a signal that it’s assessing the option of 30%, and it seems that it would be possible to reach this target at EU level, I think that all the stakeholders in EU should be ready for a final compromise of 30%.”

But he added that right now, the current impact assessment only supports a target of 27%. Legislators would be going beyond what has been evaluated for feasibility.

“If the Commission is sending a political signal that 30% is possible, they should present those figures,” he said.

Baby steps

But several member states are hoping that a different concession can keep the target at 27% in the final agreement with Parliament.

Estonia, which holds the rotating presidency of the Council, wants to get an agreement for a common position from member states by the end of the year, when it will hand off the presidency to Bulgaria.

Several member states, including Germany and Sweden, are concerned that a target of 27% will not motivate enough action early in the next decade. The EU as a whole has a target of 20% for 2020, and a raise of just seven percentage points in ten years will mean they may delay investments until 2025 or later, officials said.

Others, such as Poland, are wary of raising the target to levels that they believe might be unachievable.

In order to bridge the gap, Estonia has proposed to address the concern about a lack of early action by inserting interim targets into the legislation – for 2023 and 2025. This, officials say, would prevent countries from just coasting on their 2020 achievement for several years.

Under the proposal, countries would need to get a quarter of the way to 27% by 2023, and 40% of the way there by 2025, an EU Presidency official explained. The targets wouldn’t be binding and would be assessed at EU-wide level. If the EU as a whole isn’t meeting the interim targets, the Commission or perhaps the Council will undertake an analysis of which countries are lagging, in order to “name and shame” them.

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Climate campaigners say the 27% target is laughably low, and no amount of interim goals will make it any stronger. They are already dismayed with the Parliament’s position, saying a 40% goal would be reachable.

The biggest problem, they argue, is that none of these targets are binding at national level, unlike for the 2020 targets. The 2030 target is EU-wide, and MEPs failed to propose binding national targets in their position.

Green Luxembourgish MEP Claude Turmes is calling for the full Parliament to reject the energy committee’s approach and insert binding national targets into the legislation. He also blasted a 10% “flexibility” margin added by MEPs, which will allow member states to fall short of their targets in “exceptional and duly justified circumstances”.

“It seems highly unlikely that the overall EU target will be met,” with the Parliament’s current version, Turmes said. “With negotiations with the member states yet to begin, the parliament should not agree such a weak starting position.”

But privately, both business and environmental groups say the EU seems to be heading toward a 30% EU-level target for 2030 with no binding national targets. Negotiations between the Parliament and member states are set to begin in January.

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).

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