Energy transition: “Many countries simply did not hear the warning shot“

, by Florence Schulz |, Translated by Nora Teuma

All the versions of this article: [Deutsch] [English]

Energy transition: “Many countries simply did not hear the warning shot“
The EU needs to catch up when it comes to renewable energies. Photo: Sebastian Binder / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

Energy turnaround policy in Europe is moving forward too slow. Brussels is lacking ambition to fulfil the provisions of the Paris Agreement. This is what the “Energy Atlas” by the Heinrich Böll Foundation concluded. Especially cities and communities hence have to take it upon themselves to meet the targets.

Thus far, the Clean Energy Packet that is to regulate Europe’s energy supply as of 2020 is not signed off by EU institutions yet. However, experts already fear for the results of the inter-institutional negotiations (trilogues) not to be sufficiently wide-ranging.

The Energy Atlas by the Heinrich Böll Foundation is hence searching for alternatives to facilitate the green energy turnaround. “Many countries simply did not hear the warning shot. They will not meet their climate targets,” says Dörte Fouquet who is an author of the study and works for the European Renewable Energies Foundation.

The Clean Energy Package by the Commission envisages two important points: a mandatory EU target for the share of renewable energies in the total energy consumption of 27 percent, as well as an improvement of the energy efficiency by 30 percent byl 2030. “These goals are not ambitious enough, they are impossible not to achieve,” states Fouquet.

Indeed, the European Parliament seems to agree. In January, it envisioned to lift the percentage to 35 in discussions with the Council. The latter impedes such a raise, suggesting instead to weaken the member states’ liabilities specified in the contract. As of 2020, these were no longer to be individually prescribed but rather defined as a voluntary “overall effort” to reach the climate goals of the upcoming decade.

Local projects bear the largest potential

Given the lack of ambition from Brussels, according to Fouquet and many experts, the biggest potential for a successful energy transition lies in the hands of European communities.

The Energy Atlas thus calls for the European electricity networks to be decentralised and the energy market to open up more to citizens. Germany is already well-positioned in this regard: The number of municipalities investing in local energy cooperatives is increasing. Moreover, the introduction of fixed ‘feed-in tariffs’ on energy produced by citizens, ranging between five and seven percent, substantially contributed to the expansion of renewable energies in Germany. According to a study by the consultancy CE Delft from 2016, around 264 million energy-supplying citizens could cover 45 percent of the EU’s energy demand by 2050. So much for the theory, but such a major change of our energy sources has to be fundable, too.

The city of Bottrop in the Ruhr area in western Germany proved this to be feasible. Since 2010 it has called itself “InnovationCity Ruhr”, and plans to lower its CO2 emissions by 50 percent – compared to those in 2010 – by the year 2020. In over 300 individual projects, houses are renovated to increase their energy efficiency. The energy used is gained from photovoltaic and heat pumps, then distributed amongst surrounding buildings by intelligent energy management systems. “This is what we managed to achieve in only ten years and we can clearly demonstrate: The German climate goals are still attainable with sustainable climate politics,” concludes Burkhard Drescher, the executive director of the coordination of the InnovationCity.

How can the supply of energy by citizens be promoted?

Local projects like this are promising. The report by the Heinrich Böll Foundation hence calls for the promotion of such initiatives in the framework of the Clean Energy Package.

The Commission has already correctly recognised that citizens need to be involved in the transition to a greater extent. But excessive fees to access the network as well as administrative hurdles need yet to be abolished. The European Parliament has voiced similar claims as Member States often fail to implement the planned involvement of citizens.

“I feel like in Germany we fear a local, decentralised electricity network could maraud,” believes Fouquet. She goes on to suggest that if there are no mandatory dues for Member States prescribed by the Clean Energy Package, the EU should consider compensating with structural funds like the European Regional Development Fund. The upcoming programme framework (2021-2027) could thus provide financial resources to strengthen local energy projects.

This article was first published by Euractiv. It was republished with permission on our German sister edition Treffpunkt Europa on 20 April.

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