Interview: Kadri Simson

Kadri Simson,
Commissioner for Energy at European Commission

“In a recent report, we learned that the EU is set to slightly surpass 2030 renewable energy goals. Can you please elaborate more on this development?”

Our preliminary assessment of the national energy and climate plans (NECPs) presented by the EU Member States for the period 2021-2030 indicates that the EU as a whole might reach a share of renewables of 33%, slightly above the formal 2030 target of 32%. In any case, if the EU is to fulfill its climate goals and its objective of becoming a fully decarbonized economy by 2050, we need to bet strongly on renewables. With the energy sector responsible for more than 75% of the EU greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), renewable energy has a key role in cost-effectively tackling climate change, while enhancing energy security, creating growth and jobs, reducing pollution and strengthening EU industrial and technological leadership and independence. All these elements are at the core of the European Green Deal and the post-COVID-19 Economic Recovery Package. As part of the Green Deal, the Commission has committed itself to analyze whether it is possible to increase the EU’s 2030 GHG reduction target from 40% to at least 50-55%, compared with 1990 levels. To fulfill this increased ambition, the Commission will review current energy and climate legislation including the 2018 Renewable Energy Directive. By this September 2020, the Commission will present its 2030 Climate Target Plan, which will indicate the extent to which the 2030 level of ambition for renewable energy should be increased to support the higher ambition for GHG reductions and may point at specific sectors and specific renewables-related measures that could deliver on this higher ambition.

“Please tell our readers about The European Green Deal. How does it aim to transform the EU economy into a sustainable economy?”

The European Green Deal is a comprehensive roadmap for making the EU's economy sustainable by turning climate and environmental challenges into opportunities across all policy areas and making the transition just and inclusive for all Europeans. It is the new growth strategy of the EU, a path to transform our way of living and working, of producing and consuming so that we live healthier and make our businesses more innovative. By doing this, we are committed to becoming the first climate-neutral continent by 2050 – this means that our greenhouse gas emissions should not exceed the emissions we absorb.

The Green Deal consists of actions aimed at boosting the efficient use of resources by moving to a clean, circular economy that will combat climate change, revert biodiversity loss, and cut pollution levels. It covers all sectors of the economy, notably transport, energy, agriculture, buildings, and industries such as steel, cement, ICT, textiles, and chemicals.

Meeting the objectives of the European Green Deal will require significant investment, estimated at €260 billion of additional annual investment, representing about 1.5% of 2018 GDP. To reach this goal, a Sustainable Europe Investment Plan has been presented and at least 25% of the EU's long-term budget should be dedicated to climate action, with the European Investment Bank, Europe's climate bank, providing further support. Finally, the Deal includes a Just Transition Mechanism that will support those regions that rely heavily on very carbon-intensive activities and will help those citizens most vulnerable to the transition, providing access to reskilling programmes and employment opportunities in new economic sectors.

“The EU is today a frontrunner on renewable energy and has taken substantial measures to boost market uptake. In your view, how important is accessibility and affordability in reaching to the end-user?”

For us in the EU, the key issue is placing consumers at the centre of the energy system. Clear and easily accessible information is essential to enable citizens to change energy consumption patterns and switch to renewable solutions that support an integrated energy system. Customers – citizens and businesses alike – should be informed on their rights, on the technology options available to them and their associated carbon and environmental footprint, so they can make informed choices, be motivated to use renewable energy, and truly drive decarbonization. It is important that vulnerable households are not left behind and energy poverty is addressed. Furthermore, some markets for sustainable products and services are still missing, for instance for products such as steel, cement, and chemicals produced with renewable or low-carbon fuels. To improve the sustainability of such intermediary products, consumers should receive relevant information that may encourage them to pay a price premium and switch to a more renewable-centered energy consumption mode.

“EU is set to make a big push for hydrogen. How does the European Commission plan to increase domestic production to enable rapid upscaling?”

In an integrated energy system, hydrogen could become a major protagonist in the decarbonization of industry, transport, power generation, and buildings across Europe. On 8 July 2020, the European Commission presented a new EU Hydrogen Strategy that addresses how to transform this potential into reality, through investments, regulation, market creation, and research and innovation. We believe that hydrogen has the potential to power sectors that are not suitable for electrification and provide storage to balance variable renewable energy flows. This can only be achieved with a coordinated action between the public and private sectors, to develop renewable hydrogen, produced using mainly wind and solar energy. In the short and medium-term, however, other forms of low-carbon hydrogen are needed to rapidly reduce emissions and support the development of a viable market. From 2020 to 2024, our aim is the installation of at least 6 gigawatts of renewable hydrogen electrolyzers in the EU, and the production of up to one million tonnes of renewable hydrogen. Then from 2025 to 2030, hydrogen will need to become an intrinsic part of the EU’s integrated energy system, with at least 40 gigawatts of renewable hydrogen electrolyzers and the production of up to ten million tonnes of renewable hydrogen in the EU. Finally, from 2030 to 2050, renewable hydrogen technologies should reach maturity and be deployed at large scale across all hard-to-decarbonize sectors.

“The COVID-19 pandemic outbreak has disrupted global renewables growth. How it has impacted the EU renewables sector. What steps are being considered to convert this adversity into an opportunity?”

The EU’s plans for economic recovery are fully compatible with a green and sustainable recovery. We calculate that meeting the existing 2030 climate and energy targets can add 1% of GDP and create almost 1 million new green jobs. The European Green Deal will help kick-start Europe’s economy quickly, through a wide range of tools and initiatives, tailored to national and regional needs.

Specifically, on the 8th of July, the Commission presented a comprehensive strategy for facilitating Energy System Integration. This will encourage different sectors in the energy system to work more closely together, embracing new technologies and innovation and thereby boosting industrial competitiveness and renewables uptake. This initiative was accompanied by the already mentioned strategy on hydrogen – identifying the way forward for this important technology to decarbonize our economy. Also, we will soon present a massive renovation wave of our buildings and upgrade the energy infrastructure. Buildings are one of the most energy-inefficient sectors in the economy. This is particularly relevant in the context of the recovery, given the labor-intensive nature of the sector, the relative ease with which projects can be launched, and the potential for providing savings in household energy bills by improving energy efficiency and lowering energy consumption.

A key element of our pro-renewables economic recovery push will be our offshore energy strategy we will be presenting in September this year. We aim to expand offshore wind farms in Europe and to work out an international and European framework for the construction of wind farms.

“What is the EU strategy on energy system integration? How does it aim to encourage smart sector integration?”

The EU’s Strategy for Energy System Integration aims to improve our energy framework and make it fit for the green energy transition. The current system, where energy consumption in transport, industry, gas, and buildings occurs in ‘silos’ - each with separate value chains, rules, infrastructure, planning, and operations - cannot deliver climate neutrality by 2050 in a cost-efficient way. That is why we need to create new links between all the different sectors, planning and operating the system as a whole, linking different energy carriers, infrastructures, and consumer sectors. This connected and flexible system will be more efficient, incorporate more renewables, and reduce costs for society. Our strategy is based on three pillars.

First, the system will become more ‘circular’, with energy efficiency at its core. The strategy identifies concrete actions to apply the ‘energy efficiency first’ principle in practice and to use local energy sources more effectively in our buildings or communities. Second, steps will be taken to reach greater direct electrification of end-use sectors. As the power sector has the highest share of renewables, we will increasingly use electricity where possible: for example, for heat pumps in buildings, electric vehicles in transport or electric furnaces in certain industries. A network of one million electric vehicle charging points will be among the visible results, along with the expansion of solar and wind power. Third, for those sectors where electrification is difficult, the strategy promotes clean fuels, including renewable hydrogen and sustainable biofuels and biogas.

“What are the plans of the European Commission in regard to renewable energy while aiming to meet the EU National Energy and Climate Plans 2021-2030?”

In order to reach the EU’s binding energy and climate targets for 2030, we have established a system of how each country intends to fulfill its climate goals in the next 10 years, starting from 2021. The concept is called the national energy and climate plan (NECP). Each Member State needs to specify its 10-year plans for reducing emissions, increasing the take-up of renewables, improving energy efficiency (including in buildings), expanding cross-border infrastructure/interconnections, ensuring markets are fit for new technologies, and boosting research and innovation. Member States submitted their final plans in early 2020, and the Commission is now analyzing them and will soon present a detailed assessment of the cumulative impact of all the plans. By highlighting the direction of travel at the EU level – and providing regular progress reports as we move forward - the NECPs are expected to provide a boost for investment in renewables and help us reach our 2030 renewables target (32%). The NECPs are of key importance in driving the clean energy transition. They can lock in Member State commitments and avoid slippage as we move forward. Moreover, the NECPs will form a key building block as the EU looks to increase our ambition under the European Green Deal to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

Interview 14/07/2020 by News Bureau
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