Renewables take the back seat in the new EU energy strategy

European Union flag
Source: DollarPhotoClub

Diversifying the sources of supply for the EU’s imports of gas, increasing indigenous energy production, and developing new infrastructure to provide more methods of importing gas, are the main tenements of the new energy security strategy unveiled by the European Commission on Wednesday – The Guardian reported today.

Reducing Europe’s dependence on Russian gas was one of the top priorities discussed. Currently, Europe imports about 40 per cent of its gas from Russia, with around a third coming from Norway and a fifth from north Africa. In the wake of the ever escalating conflict in Ukraine, this dependence is problematic; exposing Europe to potential disruptions of service and price-increases.

Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, placed energy independence high on the agenda, saying: “The EU has done a lot in the aftermath of the gas crisis of 2009 to increase its energy security. Yet, it remains vulnerable. The tensions over Ukraine again drove home this message. In the light of an overall energy import dependency of more than 50 per cent we have to make further steps. Increasing energy security is in all our interest. On energy security, Europe must speak and act as one.”

The bloc’s energy chief, Guenther Oettinger, talked about a ‘long homework’ for the EU, which would include developing “strong and stable partnerships with important suppliers”, while “avoiding falling victim to political and commercial blackmail,” adding: “We need to accelerate the diversification of external energy suppliers, especially for gas.”

Increasing indigenous energy production was also listed as a priority by the commission. But as well as including renewable energy, which has been the main focus in the past, this would now explicitly include “sustainable production of fossil fuels”, which would be expected to include shale gas.

Developing new infrastructure such as new pipelines and ports equipped for ships carrying liquefied natural gas, and interconnectors that allow grids in different countries to be hooked together and suppliers to be connected to users, was also high on the Commission’s agenda. Other actions included completing the EU’s internal energy market, which is part of the liberalisation of energy markets that has long been a target for Brussels regulators.

Environmental activists expressed concern over the fact that the new strategy relies heavily on importing and developing fossil fuels (including shale gas), with less attention given to renewables and energy efficiency.

Franziska Achterberg, energy policy director at Greenpeace, said: “The commission’s plan will do very little to reduce the EU’s dependence on energy imports. Throwing money at new gas infrastructure to get Europe off Russian gas will not cure the addiction to imported fossil fuels. Europe would still be a junkie desperate for a fix. Instead, Europe should kick the habit and exploit the enormous potential for energy savings and home-grown renewables by setting ambitious targets for 2030. Anything less would not only be environmentally and economically disastrous. It would be politically irresponsible.”

Susanna Williams, policy officer at EEB, said: “Europe’s number one priority should be to exploit our abundant indigenous resources of energy savings and renewable energy. This is the only truly sustainable which does not rely on costly and unsustainable alternatives such as diversification of gas supply routes or the development of shale gas.”

Energy efficiency, which initially was to be an important part of the energy strategy, became a missed opportunity after it “had moved too far down the list of priorities in the commission’s proposal”.

The European Environment Bureau, a non-governmental organisation, believes that there could be a saving of more than 40 per cent of energy use in the next 15 years if measures were taken quickly.

It is believed that energy efficiency will be addressed separately, at a later date.

Connie Hedegaard, the EU climate commissioner, said: “Energy security and the fight against climate change are inseparable: without climate policies there can’t be energy security. This is why energy efficiency and renewables will continue to be two key ingredients as they are good both for the climate and energy security. Europe is already saving €30 billion a year by replacing imported fossil fuels with locally produced renewable energy. In other words, we invest the money here in Europe instead of sending it to Putin’s Russia and other fossil fuel providers outside Europe.”

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