EU proposal sets renewable energy targets, ignores biofuels

By Erin Voegele | January 22, 2014

On Jan. 22, the European Commission proposed new clean energy and greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction objectives. By 2030, the commission has proposed a GHG emission reduction of 40 percent below the 1990 level, along with an EU-wide 27 percent binding target for renewable energy. The commission is also proposing to establish a new governance system and a set of new indicators to ensure a competitive and secure energy system.

The new targets build upon previously established targets that are to be attained by 2020. According to information issued by the European Commission, the EU is on track to meet those goals. The 2020 goals include a 20 percent GHG reduction, 20 percent renewable energy goals and 20 percent energy inefficiency improvements.

As of 2012, the commission reports that GHG emissions increased by 18 percent when compared to 1990 emissions and are expected to reach 24 percent reduction by 2020 and a 32 percent reduction by 2030. The share of renewable energy was 13 percent in 2012 and is expected to increase to 21 percent by 2020 and 24 percent by 2030. Excluding hydropower, the commission said that the EU had installed approximately 44 percent of the world’s renewable electricity by the close of 2012.

Regarding bioenergy, the proposal calls for improved biomass policy “to maximize the resource efficient use of biomass in order to deliver robust and verifiable greenhouse gas savings and to allow for fair competition between the various uses of biomass resources in the construction sector, paper and pump industries and biochemical and energy production.” It goes on to say that the biomass policy should encompass the sustainable use of land, the sustainable management of forests in line with the EU’s forest strategy and address indirect land use effects.

Within its proposal, the European Commission indicates that it “does not think it appropriate to establish new targets for renewable energy or the greenhouse gas intensity of fuels used in the transport sector or any other sub-sector after 2020.” The proposal elaborates by noting that “the assessment of how to minimize indirect land-use change emissions made clear that first generation biofuels have a limited role in decarbonizing the transport sector.” The commission indicates that it things the focus of transportation policy should on improving efficiency, electric vehicles, and second- and third-generation biofuels and other alternative, sustainable biofuels as part of a holistic, integrated approach.

"Climate action is central for the future of our planet, while a truly European energy policy is key for our competitiveness. Today's package proves that tackling the two issues simultaneously is not contradictory, but mutually reinforcing. It is in the EU's interest to build a job-rich economy that is less dependent on imported energy through increased efficiency and greater reliance on domestically produced clean energy. An ambitious 40% greenhouse reduction target for 2030 is the most cost-effective milestone in our path towards a low-carbon economy. And the renewables target of at least 27 percent is an important signal: to give stability to investors, boost green jobs and support our security of supply,” said European Commission President José Manuel Barroso.

The U.K. based Renewable Energy Association has spoken out to criticize what it calls a “lack of ambition for renewable energy” in the proposal, noting it sets no specific targets for EU member states. The REA also noted that he proposal indicates the renewables target would be ensured by a new governance system based on national energy plans, but that the U.K. government has been pushing for a technology-neutral approach that downplays the role of renewables.

“We’re about to find out what happens when theoretical economics meets the real world. Theory suggests a ‘technology neutral’ approach is economically efficient. But experience shows that binding renewables targets do two things: First, they give a major long-term boost to investor confidence, helping accelerate market growth and technology cost reduction. Second, politics frequently trumps economics in the real world, and when politicians go wobbly on renewables, the targets help keep investment flowing,” said REA Chief Executive Nina Skorupska.

“New binding targets for Member States would accelerate the cost reduction potential that is unique to renewables. Renewable generators are smaller and more numerous than fossil and nuclear generators, so the combination of greater competition and mass production leads to major cost reductions – as well as more jobs, community participation and greater resilience. Many renewables will be cheaper than nuclear well before 2030, and will be cost-competitive with fossil fuels – and no longer require subsidy – sooner with binding targets than without,” Skorupska continued.

Regarding the proposal’s treatment of transportation fuels, the REA said that the commission has removed any direct incentive to decarbonize transportation fuel. “Expanding renewable electricity will help electric vehicles contribute to decarburization, but sustainable biofuels offer more cost effective emissions savings in the shorter term. The UK is one of a number of countries having to urgently replace ageing power capacity to meet current electricity demand, let alone the significant increase in capacity required for a wide rollout of electric vehicles,” said the REA in a statement.

The European Council is expected to consider the new framework at its meeting in March. Additional information on the proposal is available on the European Commission website.