Oettinger tells Europe: It’s double or quits on renewables

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Europe will have to double its spending on renewables if it wants to meet its 2020 energy commitments, EU Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger has said.

He was speaking as the European Commission released a new communication assessing member states' progress toward meeting the 2020 targets.

The data showed that EU member states had largely failed to meet the electricity and transport targets they had set themselves for 2010. 

"Some member states have made progress and are in line to meet their targets, or have gone beyond them, but some are lagging behind," Oettinger said.

"We're on the right track but we have to step up the pace."

Scale up to €70 billion

To achieve the EU's energy goals, Oettinger called for a doubling of capital investments in renewable energies from €35 billion to €70 billion.

This would require a substantial use of national support plans, he stated. But he did not set any time frame for implementation.

"We'd need a doubling of investment over the next few years," he said.

The EU is committed to a 20% increase in the share of renewables in its energy mix by 2020, compared to 1990 levels.

But the latest figures show that only seven EU countries – Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Lithuania, Poland and Portugal – expect to meet or exceed their 2010 renewables targets, according to their national action plans.

As a result of the difference between expectations outlined in the plans and realities, the Commission believes that Sweden, Belgium and the Netherlands are more advanced along the path to clean energy than Lithuania, Poland and Portugal.

The figures for the incorporation of renewables – such as biofuels and biomass – into the transport sector make slightly more encouraging reading for the Commission.

Austria, Finland, Germany, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Spain and Sweden all expect to exceed their 2010 targets.

But while the advances of Finland, Malta and Spain are questioned by the Commission, France, Hungary, Lithuania, and Slovakia are thought to be performing better.

Towards smart financing

The EU has a target of raising the share of fuels from renewable sources in transport to 10% by 2020.

"We have to invest much more in renewable energy and we need smart, cost-effective financing," Oettinger said.  

"If member states work together and produce renewable energy where it costs less, companies, consumers and the taxpayer will benefit from this," he added.

The Greens in the European Parliament welcomed his acknowledgement of the importance of national support schemes, but said that the Commission too needed to speed up its act if targets were to be met.

"Unfortunately, the Commission is still dragging its feet on the issue of sustainable biofuels," Luxembourg Green MEP Claude Turmes said.

He called for an urgent introduction of rules to take into account the impact of biofuels on indirect land use change (ILUC).

When crops in one location are turned over for the production of biofuels such as ethanol or biodiesel, pristine forests are often cleared in another location to compensate.

The net result can be an increase in carbon emissions.

"Delaying action on this will lead to serious environmental damage and ultimately undermine the EU's climate change policy," Turmes said.

Arthouros Zervos, president of the European Renewable Energy Council (EREC), said the commissioner's communication "provides a clear picture of both the promising progress of renewables and the economic challenges, but is disappointing when it comes to new, innovative ideas regarding financing of renewables".

"It is the fifth consecutive year that renewables have accounted for more than 40% of new electricity generating installations," he continued. "Given at the same time the continuous slow growth of renewable heat at EU and national level, more support is needed in the heat sector, for example to district heating or co-generation."

"For investment in renewable energy to double, investors need stable European and national frameworks."

Luxembourg MEP Claude Turmes, the Greens' energy spokesman, had a contrasting view. "National support schemes for renewable energy have proved overwhelmingly successful in promoting the uptake of renewables," he said.

"We welcome that the Commission has acknowledged this and resisted the lobby by big energy utilities to undermine these national schemes. The message is simple: if it ain't broke, don't fix it."

"National support schemes, combined with the cooperation mechanisms provided for in the EU renewables legislation, are the best way to promote an increased share of renewables and hopefully this approach will be endorsed at this week's energy summit."

In March 2007, EU heads of state and government endorsed the first EU energy action plan and called on the European Commission to prepare a new action plan for the post 2010 period.

Some offshoots of the current action plan have included far-reaching energy liberalisation proposals, the climate and energy package and the Strategic Energy Technology Plan (SET Plan).

The 'Europe 2020' strategy proposal, presented by the Commission in March 2010, incorporated the 2020 climate goals in its flagship initiative to promote a resource-efficient Europe.

Last May EU ministers gave their first views on the upcoming EU energy strategy for 2011-2020, agreeing that it should be ready for endorsement by EU leaders in March 2011.

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