Written by Gregor Erbach,
The highlight of the EU Sustainable Energy Week #EUSEW16 is a three day conference in Brussels and brings together some 2 300 experts, entrepreneurs and policymakers. It takes place at a time when the EU is busy with preparations for implementing its commitments under the Paris Agreement on climate change. The agreement aims at phasing out the emission of greenhouse gases during this century, a formidable challenge in which energy takes the centre stage.
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Renewable energy has helped grow the EU’s economy while reducing its carbon emissions, thanks to the promotion of renewables in the EU. In 2014, renewable energy sources had a 16% share in the energy consumption of the EU. Nine Member States have already achieved their targets for 2020, while others will have to make more efforts to reach their goals. Investment in renewable energy sources in Europe has slowed down in recent years, due to policy changes, a sluggish economy and falling renewable energy sources technology costs. The issue at stake is how to encourage
further investments in renewables while keeping the support costs under control, and how to best accommodate renewables in the electricity market. The integration of variable renewables such as wind and solar into the electricity grid poses challenges, which are addressed by energy storage and strengthening physical interconnections between the regions where electricity is generated and the areas where it is consumed. As the share of renewables in electricity production continues to grow, smart grids and smart meters facilitate its smooth integration in the electricity system. Significant variations exist among Member States in their deployment of smart metering, the precise energy cost savings are uncertain and there remain concerns about security and data protection.
An EPRS implementation appraisal concludes that the EU needs a consistent long-term strategy to encourage further investments in renewable energies. Indeed, the overarching EU Energy Union strategy aims at making the EU number one in renewables. Besides decarbonisation, the strategy focuses on energy security, completing the internal energy market, energy efficiency, as well as research and innovation.
While wind and solar energy get the most attention, the leading renewable energy source in the EU is biomass for electricity and heating. Biomass is a renewable energy source which can be used to produce electricity, heat and transport fuels. It accounts for roughly two thirds of renewable energy in the European Union (EU). Although biomass can come from many different sources, wood is by far the most common. Under EU legislation, biomass is carbon neutral, based on the assumption that the carbon released when solid biomass is burned will be re-absorbed during tree growth. A new EU strategy on heating and cooling aims to boost the use of renewables in this sector.
Replacing petroleum products in road, water and air transport is another big task. Achieving the sustainability of biofuels is challenging, but they have the big advantage that they can be used with existing engines and fuel infrastructure. Other vehicle fuels like hydrogen or electricity need alternative fuel infrastructure, which is being rolled out in EU Member States.
Energy efficiency – doing more with less
The most sustainable energy is of course that which is not needed because energy efficiency lets you do more with less. By using energy more efficiently, energy demand can be reduced, leading to lower energy bills for consumers, lower emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants, reduced need for energy infrastructure, and increased energy security through a reduction of imports. Worldwide, energy efficiency has contributed to substantial savings in energy consumption. The implementation of energy efficiency policies is challenging, and the full potential of energy efficiency is far from realised, for financial, behavioural and regulatory reasons. Households play a major role here, by occupying new or renovated energy-efficient buildings and choosing energy-efficient appliances, assisted by clear energy efficiency labelling. The EPRS implementation appraisal of EU energy efficiency policy concludes that the monitoring of implementation must continue and additional measures may be needed.
The global transition towards sustainable energy will be an exhilarating journey, as the programme of the EU sustainable energy conference illustrates.