We have to fill Europe’s post-2020 energy vacuum

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

This article is part of our special report Wind Energy.

Given the long-term investment and planning required for the creation of new energy production, the EU needs a policy framework beyond 2020 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, writes Christian Kjaer in an exclusive op-ed for EURACTIV. He concludes that a technology-neutral emissions performance standard is needed if the EU is to offer both incentives and fair competition in the provision of carbon-free electricity.

The following op-ed was sent exclusively to EURACTIV by Christian Kjaer, CEO of the European Wind Energy Association.

"It was a great achievement when 27 EU heads of state unanimously agreed on renewable energy and greenhouse gas targets for 2020, even though they failed to deliver on the no-brainer – energy efficiency. But it's important that we in the power sector acknowledge that we have a policy vacuum in terms of what's going to happen on 1 January 2021.

For infrastructure investments, that is problematic. Wind energy projects are probably the fastest creators of new power generating capacity. Still it can take anything from three to ten years from the moment you decide to plan it. Someone who starts planning today doesn't know what the conditions will be then.

I'm not so worried about whether we'll install the capacity after 2020 because we have certainty and a political framework. But I think that my industry is getting increasingly concerned about installing and planning new projects the closer we get to 2020.

So we're suggesting that the [European] Commission now starts looking at policies for the period after 2020, notably the targets for renewable energies and emissions reductions. They should really get the energy efficiency measure through within the current term of the European Commission and the Parliament, which ends in 2014. If we don't, there's going to be an enormous amount of investor uncertainty in the second half of this decade.

The Low-Carbon Roadmap did a very god job of mapping out where we need to be and we're very satisfied with the various scenarios. By 2050 they say the power sector needs to reduce emissions by between 93-97%. Where the Commission has not been so successful is in defining what a low-carbon technology actually is. Within a 2050 framework that is extremely important if we are going to reduce our carbon emissions by 80-95%. Because we will need emissions in areas like agriculture and transport, what the Commission has said with this roadmap is that the power sector can't emit carbon in 2050.

As power plants have such a long lifespan, this problem has to be addressed today.  A coal plant lasts for 40 to 45 years. That means that should the member states be true to their commitment, they should ban carbon: starting tomorrow. I don't think they will, but they should if they want to reach zero carbon in 2050.

It is clear that at the recent energy summit and in the energy ministers' meetings afterwards, nuclear, gas and coal were labelled 'low-carbon technologies'. There is a push or an intention to classify every existing power generating technology as low carbon – including coal, by including CCS (carbon capture and storage) – and this is why we're saying 'let's start now by defining a policy framework and a technology-neutral emissions performance standard, starting in 2015 to fill that vacuum after 2020'.

Set it slightly above a new gas plant – about 350 grams per kilowatt hour – and reduce it over time, just as you would do with car emissions, to give an incentive for developing technology.

And then let the market decide who can deliver the cheapest carbon-free electricity."

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