What does the new EU climate targets mean?
The European Commission outlined its plans for a climate and energy policy towards 2030 at a press conference in Brussels last week.
The Commissioners want a binding target to reduce carbon emissions by 40% from 1990 levels. Furthermore, renewables will have to constitute 27% of EU’s energy mix by 2030. The target will be binding at EU level but there will be no mandatory targets for member states. Lack of national targets should give states the flexibility to adapt to the requirement. The common EU target will be designed by a new system based on national energy plans, without any more details at this stage.
All emissions have to be taken within the EU, hence not allow the purchase of credits from other countries. The trading of emission allowances (EU ETS) is still a key instrument for achieving emissions target.
The European renewable energy sector has expressed it’s disappointment with the decision by the European Commission to drop mandatory national targets for renewable power from its plans. The proposals have also largely been debated in and among the environmental groups, with them highlighting evidence that economic factors are starting to influence the climate debate in ways they previously had not in Europe.
Is it reason to be all negative to this announcement?
Yes and no. Emissions target of 40% was the expected result. It should ideally be higher, but it means that the EU is more or less on track for the goal of 80% emissions cuts by 2050. In 2020 they will probably already be at 24%, well ahead of their 20% target.
With respect to the 27% renewable target, I think one key question is if the goal is high enough to drive further innovation in the power system? Is it ambitious enough in order to build reliable systems that can handle intermittent energy sources like solar and wind?
Smart Grid Revolution
If the renewable goal turn out to be efficient, the EU will be able to take the lead when it comes to driving a technology revolution in the power system and this trigger is probably one of the most important elements of their new 2030 framework.
The goal will force innovation in the energy systems and further industrialization of renewables, energy storage and energy management. These technologies and solutions will then spread and scale to other parts of the world. This is perhaps just as important a contribution for the global climate as the actual emission cuts in the EU.
Rather than thinking of achieving a non-binding renewable target in terms of individual member states, a more regionalized geographic approach has been chosen i.e. “put the wind turbines where the wind blows”. Neighboring countries have to discuss with each other, for the purposes of working out energy trading, before each member state negotiates with Brussels on renewable targets.
Wind, solar, storage and smart grids are highly capital intensive and implementation of new technology is of course expensive. Renewables have taken significant positions over the last decades and will in Europe progressively be moving from 20% to 27% and call for a massive upgrade of the power transmission and distribution infrastructure.
Going forward, rise of super grids
Global demand for electricity is growing rapidly. This growth will translate into a strong increase in global investments in electricity transmission and distribution infrastructure. In particular, the development of super grids will be crucial, enabling transnational and transcontinental transmission networks that facilitate the high-volume transport of electricity across great distances.
With renewable energy sources typically located far away from population centers, super grids also facilitate the integration of large-scale renewable energy. Super grids are already being developed in some countries, for instance, the long-distance, ultra-high-voltage connections between hydropower stations in western China and east-coast load centers in cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. Other examples can be found in Canada and India, while a possible connection between continental Europe and large-scale solar farms in Africa’s Sahara Desert has been mooted.
Towards COP 21 in Paris
I would like the EU to be even more ambitious with their climate policy. Europe needs aggressive climate policies. Both because it depends highly on imported fossil fuels, and because it needs to stay in the forefront on new technology and build new industries to tackle unemployment.
To prepare for the expected grid expansion we are now in the construction phase of the EUR 70 million projects to expand DNV GL’s existing High-Power Laboratory facilities. The expansion will create the world’s first lab in the extreme testing segment for the emerging market for super grids capable of bulk energy transport at 800 kV and above.
However, I am convinced that last week’s proposal from the Commission represent an important step in the right direction. The Commission’s proposal is still up for approval by all 28 member states. Heads of States and governments are expected to consider the 2030 Framework during the European Council meeting of 20-21 March this year and it will be important to have this in place before COP Paris 2015.
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