EU Energy Union package lacks ambition, says SolarPower Europe

Today’s Energy Union package by the European Commission (EC) lacks the ambition required to properly phase-out coal and nuclear in Europe’s energy mix, says European solar body SolarPower Europe.

The Energy Union package is the latest official effort from Brussels to push the continent towards the climate change goals agreed to at last year’s COP21 UN summit in Paris. And despite EU climate and energy commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete outlining plans to eliminate public subsidies for power generation by coal, gas and peat, SolarPower Europe president Oliver Schäfer said that the EC has again showed a lack of conviction in its actions.

"The market design measures proposed by the Commission are going in the right direction, but are not brave enough to phase out coal and nuclear," said Schäfer. "The energy transition is slowed down when these harmful energy sources continue to exist in our electricity system."

Man with a plan

The EC’s 1,000-page plan seeks to strengthen binding EU targets on energy efficiency and renewable uptake. The package outlines plans to remove subsidies for fossil fuel in power generation over a five-year transition period, with a view to lowering CO2 emissions by 40% by 2030.

For renewables, the EU-wide target has been increased only slightly to 27% by 2030. Campaigners argue that these regulations are undermined by weak rules on implementation, and are concerned that solar and wind energy producers are to have their right to priority dispatch on electricity grids that already have a 15% share of renewables limited.

"We are radically reforming the energy market for a greater integration of renewables," said Arias Cañete. "Consumers will have a very important role."

The package outlines a new scheme that will encourage Europeans to self-consume and self-generate energy, playing their part as prosumers in the continent’s energy revolution.

This element of the package, at least, was welcomed by SolarPower Europe.

"Solar is a means to democratize energy, and we are delighted that for the first time renewable self-consumers will now be recognized at EU level and have a legally binding framework giving them the right to generate, consume, store and sell their own power," said SolarPower Europe’s policy director Alexandre Roesch.

To peg back fossil fuel use, the Energy Union will attach a limit of 550 grams of carbon dioxide per kWh to subsidies paid to new plants, with no subsidies at all for coal-fired plants. Further regulation on demand-side response will also compel reserve power to be available across open borders and available to innovative providers of energy.

Schäfer remarked that the EU needs a firmer push to ensure that coal and nuclear no longer receive public money through capacity mechanisms. "These are the technologies of the past, and the market built on renewables must be brought to life. The introduction of a carbon ceiling in capacity mechanisms is a good first step, but we need to make sure that such mechanisms are only used as a last resort to make a minimum impact on the market."

The Energy Union Package targets an overall cut in energy use by 30% by 2030, which is below the 40% cut previously called for by European lawmakers, but forms the chief thrust of the EC’s hope that by lowering overall demand and consumption of energy, emissions will fall.

The Energy Union package was also presented by Arias Cañete as an opportunity for Europe to create some 900,000 jobs and inject €177 billion into the economy via increased public and private investments in solar and wind power from 2021. This falls under the EU’s ‘common rule book’, which is the foundation for a stable investment environment for renewables in the EU, added SolarPower Europe’s policy advisor Sonia Dunlop.

"We need this to be taken forward and built on by our partners in the Parliament and Council to ensure that private money will flow into our technologies," said Dunlop.

Various EU member states are pulling in different directions on climate change, with Greece, Poland, Finland, the Czech Republic and the U.K. vocal in their opposition to the introduction of tougher pollution rules on coal-fired power plants. EU members must now produce their own climate and energy plans by 2018 based on this Energy Union.

Arias Cañete added that he is hopeful for a cooperative approach among nations, but stressed that rules could be changed if discourse ran deep.