Europe could pursue a more ambitious renewable energy target for 2030 and still keep costs affordable, according to a new European Commission-backed study, which suggests a 34% benchmark ahead of all-important institutional talks.
Tapping into the EU’s renewable energy potential has been touted as one of the main ways to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement, in a new report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), published on Monday (19 February).
Using existing data from 10 member states and further information from the remaining 18, IRENA concluded that the European Commission and Council’s 27% renewable target for 2030 “may be regarded as a conservative option”.
Instead, the analysis suggested that fully exploiting Europe’s clean energy sources could up that share to 33%, adding that if a 30% energy efficiency target was also implemented, the renewables figure could reach 34%.
IRENA’s findings also insisted that this more ambitious roll-out of clean energy sources would be “cost-effective” for the member states, echoing language used by the Commission last year when Energy Union boss Maroš Šefčovič conceded that a 30% target could be “affordable”.
More specifically, the study said that annual savings of some $25 billion could be made if all identified renewable energy options were rolled out, as well as anything between $19 billion and $71 billion in associated healthcare savings.
A 2017 study by the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) found that health costs related to fossil fuel use outweigh taxpayer-funded subsidies by as much as 600%. Analysis revealed that G20 subsidies of more than $400 billion in 2014 alone wracked up over $2 trillion globally.
IRENA chief Adnan Amin, during the launch of the report, warned that if the EU does not make the “right financial decisions now”, the bloc risks leaving itself with “huge stranded assets of obsolete energy infrastructure”.
Member states currently support a 27% 2030 target, which was adopted back in 2014 and still forms the backbone of the Council’s joint position. The Commission’s 2016 Clean Energy Package chose to stick with that benchmark but IRENA’s report warns that “much has changed in the energy sector” since.
In January, the European Parliament had its say and decided to amend the Commission’s proposal to include a non-binding 35% target. All three institutions are due to meet for negotiations later this year, when the Commission may decide to update its position.
EU Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete has been vocal in supporting the findings of the IRENA report, commenting earlier this month that “the big fall in renewable energy costs will allow us to go much beyond the 27% target; we could go to 34% in 2030”.
Industry group WindEurope’s Pierre Tardieu welcomed the findings and highlighted the job-creation aspect of the renewables sector: “Without a renewable energy target of at least 35%, Europe will miss out on €92 billion of investments and 132,000 jobs in the wind industry.”
Renewable energy prices dropped enough at the tail end of last year to fall below the costs of new nuclear plants, and even utility CEOs have predicted that solar, wind et al will become cheaper than existing coal plants by the start of the next decade.