What does a Juncker presidency mean for renewables in Europe?

While Jean-Claude Juncker has expressed his support for green energy, it remains to be seen what his election as president of the European Commission will mean for renewable energy on the continent.

While some industry watchers expect a strong presidency that could increase the share of renewables in Europe’s energy mix, other industry reps remain undecided as they await actions rather than rhetoric.

In a 14-page outline detailing his "Political Guidelines for the Next European Commission," released on July 15 (the day he was elected as EC president by the European Parliament), Juncker calls for the mobilization of "up to €300 billion in additional public and private investment in the real economy over the next three years."

The focus of this additional investment, Juncker says, should be renewable energy and energy efficiency, energy networks and research and innovation as well as broadband networks, transport infrastructure and education.

Juncker, who served as prime minister of Luxembourg from 1995 to 2013, also states that he wants "Europe’s Energy Union to become the world number one in renewable energies," while also pointing out that "current geopolitical events have forcefully reminded us that Europe relies too heavily on fuel and gas imports."

Indeed, the president-elect – a member of the center-right European People’s Party (EPP) — adds that "if the price for energy from the East becomes too expensive, either in commercial or in political terms, Europe should be able to switch very swiftly to other supply channels. We need to be able to reverse energy flows when necessary."

Juncker makes it clear that "we need to strengthen the share of renewable energies on our continent. This is not only a matter of a responsible climate change policy. It is, at the same time, an industrial policy imperative if we still want to have affordable energy at our disposal in the medium term. I strongly believe in the potential of green growth."

He also states his desire "to significantly enhance energy efficiency beyond the 2020 objective" and expresses support for "an ambitious, binding target to this end that continues the current energy efficiency pathway. I want the European Union to lead the fight against global warming ahead of the United Nations Paris meeting in 2015 and beyond, in line with the objective of limiting any temperature increase to a maximum of 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. We owe this to future generations."

While Juncker’s stance on renewable energy sounds encouraging to the industry, it’s not enough for James Watson, the newly appointed CEO of the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA).

Speaking to pv magazine, Watson says the president-elect "is yet to come forward with a concrete position on how he is going to increase the share of renewable energy in Europe" despite his positive sounding statements.

Watson is calling on Juncker to come out in support of ambitious and measureable targets.

"If he is true to his commitment, EPIA believes that Mr. Juncker needs to bring forward a binding target of at least 35% for renewable energies in Europe by 2030 as per the European Commission’s impact assessment which modeled a 35% target.

"This should be underpinned by member state targets. This will help the solar industry to grow and thrive in Europe."

Watson adds that "EPIA wants to see a stronger indication of support from the president of the Commission on renewable targets, also at the member state level.

"So far Mr Juncker has not made any specific statements on renewable targets, only making broad statements of support for the renewables industry in general, EPIA believes that he needs to come out in support of ambitious and measureable targets. In his recent speech to the European Parliament, he has come forward in support of a 30% efficiency target for 2030, so this could indicate that he may be willing to take up the challenge of a real and ambitious target for renewable energies. However, he didn’t refer to the fact that MEPs called for a binding renewable energy target of at least 30% in February this year. This was a missed opportunity for him to state his clear intention."

Stefan De Haan, principal photovoltaic analyst at market research group IHS, is nevertheless optimistic that a Juncker presidency could do more for the renewables sector than outgoing EC President José Manuel Barroso, who Juncker will replace in November.

"Juncker seems to be fundamentally more in favor of renewable energy than Barroso," De Haan tells pv magazine. "And he will be a strong president, so that’s in principle good news for renewables."

De Haan adds that renewable energy in the EU will increase in any case in the next years due to economics and "an irreversible global megatrend.

"The biggest task is to create a new market for energy/electricity with well defined rules. We see the turbulences that are occurring in Germany at a PV penetration of just 5% and wind penetration of just 8%. Electricity exchange prices are dropping, large parts of the fossil power generation system are not competitive anymore, business models get obsolete. These issues, which are closely related to energy security, independence, etc., definitely need to be solved on a European level — I’d say, they can only be solved at the European level — so a strong Europe is a prerequisite."

Watson argues, however, that if Juncker "is to live up to his words, then he will need to boost support for renewables in the coming five years, and this will start with delivering the right signals to investors that he is serious about what he says.

"The first chance he has to underline the importance of renewable energies is the debate on 2030 targets that will be discussed in October with heads of state. Anything less than a 35% renewables target and member state targets will be an indication that he is not serious about his commitments to global leadership in the renewables sector."

Read the full interview with EPIA CEO James Watson in the upcoming August issue of pv magazine.