EU plans expansion of renewables, says coal needs a little longer

A wind turbine and coal in Lower Saxony, Germany. The EU’s desire to wean itself off Russian hydrocarbons means it will have to find fossil fuels in other parts of the world to fill supply gaps.

Mia Bucher | Image Alliance | Getty Images

The European Commission has spelled out details of a plan to increase the EU’s renewable energy capacity and reduce its reliance on Russian fossil fuels, while acknowledging that existing coal-fired facilities may need to be used “longer than originally planned”.

A document outlining the Commission’s objectives for the REPowerEU plan was published on Wednesday, highlighting the importance of energy savings, diversifying energy imports and accelerating what it called “the clean energy transition”. from Europe”.

In total, it foresees additional investments of €210 billion ($220.87 billion) between 2022 and 2027. Regarding the share of renewables in the EU energy mix, the Commission has proposed that the current target of 40% by 2030 be raised to 45%.

The Commission’s proposals came the same day the governments of Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium said they would aim for a combined target of at least 65 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity. ‘by 2030. By mid-century, they’re aiming for 150 GW of capacity.

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On the fossil fuel front, the situation is difficult. Russia was the biggest supplier of petroleum oils and natural gas to the EU last year, according to Eurostat.

The EU’s drive to wean itself off Russian hydrocarbons after the latter invaded Ukraine means it will have to find oil and gas in other parts of the world to fill supply gaps.

The Commission said €1.5 billion to €2 billion in investment would be needed to secure oil supplies. To import enough liquefied natural gas and pipeline gas from other sources, around 10 billion euros will be needed by 2030.

All of the above comes at a time when the EU has declared that it wants to be carbon neutral by 2050. In the medium term, it wants net greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced by at least 55 % by 2030, what the EU calls its “Fit for package 55”.

The Commission said REPowerEU could not function without what it called “rapid implementation of all Fit for 55 proposals and higher targets for renewables and energy efficiency”.

In this new reality, gas consumption in the EU would “decline at a faster pace, limiting the role of gas as a transition fuel”, the Commission said.

“However, moving away from Russian fossil fuels will also require targeted investments for security of supply in gas infrastructure and very limited changes in oil infrastructure, as well as large-scale investments in the electricity grid and a backbone. hydrogen on an EU scale”, he added.

“At the same time, some of the existing coal capacities could also be used longer than originally planned, with a role for nuclear energy and national gas resources as well,” the Commission said.

At a press conference on Wednesday, EU climate chief Frans Timmermans admitted that using less natural gas in a transition phase would mean “you could use coal for a bit longer – that has a negative impact on your emissions”.

“But if at the same time, as we propose, you rapidly accelerate the introduction of renewables – solar, wind, biomethane – then you have the opposite movement,” he said.

Timmermans, Executive Vice-President of the European Commission for the European Green Deal, then underlined the importance of finding common ground.

“If we can actually do what I say – reduce our energy consumption in combination with a faster introduction of renewables – we will reduce our emissions even faster than before,” he said.

“And then, of course, we will have slightly higher emissions if people stick to coal for a little longer, but we have to find the balance so that overall we do not increase our emissions – we even hope to reduce them further.”

Coal has a substantial effect on the environment, with Greenpeace describing it as “the dirtiest and most polluting way to generate energy”.

Elsewhere, the US Energy Information Administration lists a range of emissions from burning coal, including carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, particulates and nitrogen oxides.

The European Commission’s announcement drew criticism from a number of environmental organisations.

“These plans are meant to accelerate the transition to clean energy, but the European Commission’s latest strategy gives with one hand and takes away with the other,” said Eilidh Robb, fossil fuel campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe. .

“The so-called REPowerEU contains useful and necessary advances towards renewable solutions, but simultaneously enables nearly 50 fossil fuel infrastructure projects and extensions,” Robb said.

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