Why the European Green Deal needs a 45% renewables target by 2030

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Solar tenders around the world keep breaking low bid records and the cost competitiveness of solar can be deployed to lower overall energy system costs, writes Aurélie Beauvais. [SolarPower Europe]

Looking at EU member states’ National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs) for 2030, the European Union is far from harvesting its full solar potential, writes Aurélie Beauvais.

Aurélie Beauvais is deputy CEO and policy director of SolarPower Europe, the industry association.

Europe’s fully renewable energy future is within reach and with it the promise of a sustainable, competitive, and climate-neutral economy delivering millions of green jobs. Increasing our 2030 renewable target to 45% is the first necessary chapter of this success story.

Our study with the world famous Finland’s LUT University modelled various transition pathways for reaching a 100% renewable energy system to ensure European climate neutrality by 2050, thus fulfilling the core promise of President von der Leyen’s Commission.

The study showed that the most cost-efficient route involves reaching 45% renewables in the energy mix by 2030. In this context, a lack of ambition and waiting has non-negligeable costs, which would be borne by EU citizens and businesses, on top of delaying the European Energy Transition.

The good news is that this 45% renewables target is within reach, and shines primarily as a solar success story. In case you missed the latest announcements from the International Energy Agency, solar is now more affordable than any energy source ever before.

Solar tenders around the world keep breaking low bid records and the cost competitiveness of solar can be deployed to lower overall energy system costs. This also benefits the consumer. It democratises energy, making it broadly accessible and available for everyone regardless of their background or the environment they happen to live in.

However, looking at EU member states’ National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs) for 2030, the European Union is far from harvesting its full solar potential. NECPs currently foresee 335 GW of solar installed by 2030.

According to SolaPower Europe’s European Market Outlook Medium Scenario, even if “business as usual” carries on and no major regulatory changes occur, 588 GW of solar capacity would be deployed by 2030, driven by the incredible cost-competitiveness of the technology.

This is already 75% higher than the current NECPs! As we re-open the Renewable Energy Directive (RED II) for the second time in three years, isn’t it time to ensure that the changes introduced as part of the Fit for 55 Package will facilitate a future-proof energy framework, and remain ambitious even in 2030? 

The second necessary chapter of Europe’s energy transition success story requires understanding how we change our ways and outgrow the “business as usual” deadlock to reach 45% of renewables in Europe’s final energy demand by 2030.

To start with, the Fit for 55 Package can unlock solar’s power by enabling effective energy system integration and driving renewable-based electrification.

The amendment of the Renewable Energy Directive (which some already call RED III) is critical for accelerating the deployment of solar and reaching its full potential. Few measures with high impact, can make a real difference:

First, by enhancing the framework for Commercial and Industrial (C&I) renewable energy self-consumption, the review of the RED II would facilitate the deployment of mid-sized self-consumption installations beyond 30 kW and sometimes even above the MW size.

The contribution to achieving Europe’s renewable target would be significant. C&I self-consumption installations could reach 407 GW by 2030, on top of supporting the greening of Europe’s businesses.

Second, by improving the Guarantees of Origin framework and increasing transparency, the RED II amendment will further incentivise the private sector to contribute to the objectives of the European Green Deal.

This year is already set to be another record year for corporate renewable PPAs in Europe, with 3.2GW already contracted as of June 2021, compared to 4GW in the whole year 2020.

Third, by supporting the production and uptake of renewable hydrogen through a robust certification system and dedicated quotas in hard-to-abate end-use sectors, the RED II will encourage the deployment of additional renewable energy capacity, a level that we need to meet the EU’s climate neutrality goal.

The EU has immense renewable resources which can be harvested to establish the EU as a true renewable hydrogen leader.

Fourth, by strengthening the provisions on administrative procedures and improve their implementation, the RED II revision can speed up the process for installing new solar projects, an absolute necessity for meeting higher ambitions, as well as reducing the costs associated with uncertainty and permitting delays in several EU countries.

Last but definitely not least, by setting minimum requirements for the generation of renewable energy on buildings, the RED II revision will ensure energy on buildings is fully integrated into the energy system, delivering a truly consumer-powered energy transition.

These five moves can place the EU energy system on track towards achieving climate neutrality, via 45% renewables in our energy mix in nine years time. This is a transition pathway open to us, and a pathway that also encourages much needed EU industry and job creation.

Because at its heart, a 45% renewable energy target is ultimately an EU industrial story​. According to the IEA, solar is the most job-intensive energy choice and the fastest job creator of all energy generation technologies.​

Solar could create four million jobs across Europe by 2050! Europe is home to world-leading technologies and manufacturing capacity in polysilicon, equipment, inverters, and trackers. These are all key solar building blocks.

When releasing its updated Industrial Strategy for Europe in May this year, Commissioner Thierry Breton himself said “there are several areas where industrial competitiveness and strategic autonomy meet our green ambitions. Solar manufacturing is one of these.”

Currently eight GW-scale cell and module projects are under development on European soil. And there is so much more potential here to take advantage of.

We need a 45% renewable target because aligning Europe’s 2030 climate and energy targets with the ambition to achieve climate neutrality by 2050 is essential and well within reach; because solar is the most cost-competitive energy source in history, ready to play its part in delivering the European Green Deal; and because solar is the most job-intensive energy source and the fastest job creator, ensuring a just transition for all Europeans.

Only one question remains: What are we waiting for?

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