Is the EU solarizing its digitized economy sans an environmental tax policy?

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Technological

Blockchain-based digital technologies are decentralizing and democratizing the electricity supply by enabling the interoperability of  solar PV energy produced from diversified assets with micro and macro/utility electric grids. This is keeping EU-based companies in the forefront of space-grade PV innovation that perform efficiently, even in cloudy conditions.

Economical

Solar energy is an increasingly attractive alternative from an economic point of view due to: the declining cost of solar energy; a demand for solar PV panel installations in EU’s smart cities; an increase in carbon dioxide (CO2) costs attributable to carbon taxes and environmental lawsuit fines; net metering subsidies; and funding, including from the European Investment Bank, in the renewable energy sector, as reported by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).

Environmental

Solar energy does not produce CO2 emissions when in operation, thereby improving air pollution and pollinator habitat and helping to avoid a climate change apocalypse. The EU ranks number three in the world for CO2 emissions.

Space power & climate change satellites

The EU’s commitment to solarizing its digital economy to lower its CO2 levels in accordance with UNFCCC’s 2015 Paris Agreement is backed by various initiatives undertaken both in space and on earth.

The European Space Agency (ESA)  is a space weather and CO2 emission watchdog. With the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) satellite it keeps tabs on the CO2 levels of all countries around the world. But since satellites are expensive to build, to launch and difficult to update once in orbit, ESA also utilizes a fleet of PV energized high-altitude pseudo-satellite (HAPS). A Zeppelin-like HAPS, called the “Stratobus”, is being manufactured by Thales Alenia Space in Cannes to track CO2 emissions.

The ESA  has also been actively evaluating the possibilities of utilizing Solar Power Satellites (SPS) by formulating a European strategy to solarize earthbound electric grids. France’s Airbus Defence and Space is building an SPS, which intends to beam earthbound solar energy via high-powered infrared lasers by 2030. Airbus is also making a HAPS called “Zephyr” and a larger version of that can be used for communications, reconnaissance, deliveries and even laser solar energy transmission. The world’s first HAPS base is already in operation at Wyndham Airfield in Australia.

The ESA also continues to develop the different areas of solar electric propulsion required for deep space exploration missions. With the first picture of a black hole published this spring, the future may include “using solar electric propulsion to explore black holes for alternate energy sources,” said film producer Andrew Lauren of the French science fiction film Highlife, which  is about the same topic.

Smart cities

Over half of the world’s population lives in cities, which contribute 70% of the global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions. “Cities around the world are the main cause of climate change but can also offer a part of the solution to reducing the harmful greenhouses gases that are causing global temperatures to rise,” said UN-Habitat executive director Maimunah Mohd Sharif.

Germany became the EU’s climate change pioneer with its Energiewende (energy transition) policy. It now represents about 23% of all solar power generation capacity installed worldwide. More than a million German buildings now have solar panels on their roof with one out of every two new orders accompanied with a battery storage system.

A decade later, the Danish island Samsø emerged as the poster child of climate change, since it has been 100% electrified with renewables for the past 11 years. This inspired Spain’s Balearic Islands (and another 26 EU islands, including the world’s cryptocurrency hub Malta) to switch to 100% renewable energy and ditch coal power earlier this year.  So far most of the EU countries have committed to phasing out coal plants by 2038.

Under the Horizon 2020 project, 70 EU cities are switching to clean energy sources that are digitally distributed using artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things (IoT), and blockchain-enabled networks. Germany leads the way in the EU’s digitalization of the energy sector, as outlined in its Blockchain Strategy. “Generating cheap green energy is no longer a challenge. The price of PV installations has tumbled over the last 10-20 years, so we’re now seeing huge investments in this particular energy source. The challenge is to link energy production from myriads of small installations across the landscape with a country’s total energy demand and energy production from other sources, some of which is also linked across national borders,” said Marta Victoria, who investigated and mapped the capacities of solar PV generation in the European countries.

Providing the solar digital link by creating smart-city energy districts are:  Hivepower, ABB, Space10, Sonnen-TenneT, EDF Energy and UK Power Reserve, Insolar, SMA Solar Technology and IOTA.  “The IOTA Tangle brings the promise of Distributed Ledger Technologies (DLT) to the Internet-of-Things. A growing energy community of private and public enterprises and academia are now coming together to explore its potential in real world testbed environment, paving the way for a more open, transparent and decentralized energy system,” said Wilfried Pimenta de Miranda, Business Development Director, IOTA Foundation that is part of the CityxChange H2020 consortium.

Solarized electric transportation

“Pollution often is a silent killer and is one of the greatest health hazards in Amsterdam,” said the city’s traffic councilor, Sharon Dijksma about Amsterdam’s ban on gasoline and diesel fueled cars and motorcycles by 2030. Similarly, other zero-carbon smart cities of the EU will need to address the role of solarized electric transportation and the blockchain-based energy network that will enable the interoperability between PV energized transportation, such as cars, bikes, flying water taxis, roads, and the electric grid.

The German Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems has developed a solar car roof with highly efficient solar cells to extend the driving range of electric cars, as well as a new solar cell textile woven into truck tarps to power onboard equipment. Audi A8 already features a solar sunroof, with two more PV electric car companies – German Sono Motors and Dutch Lightyear – working towards putting their cars on the road by 2021. The Mobility Open Blockchain Initiative is developing blockchain based Electric Vehicle Grid Integrator that will connect electric cars to the grid. Meanwhile, other solar energy blockchain projects include an electric car charger, and a car wallet which has a wide variety of use cases, including ride-sharing technology, which allows the deployment of underutilized personal vehicles to provide rides.

The world’s first dockless ride-sharing program was designed to counter the rise of pollution from cars in Amsterdam in 1965, by Luud Schimmelpennink, called the “white bike” program. Bikes could be borrowed and left anywhere in the city, to be borrowed again by the next individual. The dockless-bike share system was unsuccessful due to vandalism and theft, however.

Ever since then, there have been at least five generations of evolution in bike-sharing programs put forward, driven mostly by advances in digital and PV technology. The second generation bike-share program was born in Denmark in 1991, which allowed bikes to be picked up and returned to several central locations with a coin deposit. Theft was also a problem, largely due to the anonymity of the user. The third generation of bike-sharing systems was born in Portsmouth University in England and involved several technological improvements, such as bike docks that locked electronically, on-board electronics tracking user identity, swipe cards, and telecommunication capabilities. Lyon and Paris in France launched highly successful third generation bike sharing programs during the early 2000’s followed by many cities around the world.

The fourth generation bike-sharing program, which won the Genomineerd voor de Computable Award in 2017, utilizes a blockchain technology to track electric bike user identities and payments in cryptocurrencies, and was developed by the Netherland Vehicle Licensing Agency (RDW) and IBM, called “BikeBlockchain.”  A U.K. electric bike company called 50 Cycles, manufactures cryptocurrency mining e-bikes, to allow electric bike-share riders to mine cryptocurrency while peddling to earn their crypto fees. Further, a German company called The Mobility House makes chargers for these electric bikes. Zug was the first city to implement this fourth generation bike sharing program, which utilizes uPort’s eID program to track user identity and AirBie for payments in ETH.

The fifth generation solarized and docked electric bike-sharing program was designed by Christopher Cherry, Stacy Worley and David Jordan of the University of Tennessee- Knoxville in the US in 2010.  A U.S. bike company called “Electric Bike Company” recently began making solarized electric bikes, but “I haven’t seen anything more than a pilot test like ours” said Cherry about the implementation of the fifth generation bike-sharing program so far. Nevertheless, PV panels are already energizing bike-paths and roads across EU cities.

The world’s first SolaRoad bike path, a 70-meter stretch of bike-path between two suburbs of Amsterdam that generates solar power from rugged, textured glass-covered photovoltaic cells, has been in operation since 2014. The world’s first solar PV road, a patented French innovation that combines road construction and photovoltaic techniques, was installed in 2016 in France by Wattway. And the world’s first electrified road that recharges the batteries of electric cars and trucks from two rails opened in Stockholm, Sweden, in 2018.

EU regulatory & environmental tax policy

The EU has the authority to develop a unified energy policy under the 2009 Lisbon Treaty. The European Commission, the Directorate-General for Energy is responsible implementing EU’s Renewable Energy Directive to transition to a low-carbon economy, with the aim of becoming the world number one in renewable energies. The Renewable Energy Directive foresees that EU member states reach a certain percentage of renewable energy by 2020. However, member states are free regarding the choice of support instruments for reaching these targets.

The EU launched the Blockchain Observatory and has developed various blockchain related legislative and policy under the European Data Protection Supervisor. High level industry standards for data protection, interoperability and sharing of key blockchain technologies used in peer-to-peer (P2P) energy trading, smart grids, metering and aggregators was established by Digitalization & Solar Task Force of SolarPower Europe. Danish blockchain company DataHub is further developing a system to ensure meeting these standards in the electricity market.

Environmental Tax Policy: The power to levy taxes, is central to the sovereignty of EU member states, which have assigned only limited competences to the EU in this area. Therefore, the EU lacks a coherent renewable energy or digital tax policy.

Carbon taxes provided the 28 EU nations and Norway with more than €400 billion (US$450 billion) in gas and oil taxation revenues in 2017.

The EU ranks number four in subsidies to the hydrocarbon industry at $289 billion, failing to decrease despite the bloc’s commitment to the Paris Agreement on climate change, which is targeting net-zero emission levels.

State aid issues: Since the EU lacks a uniform tax regulator, energy tax and renewable energy subsidies are monitored by the EU Anti-Trust Commission, which is in charge of policing state aid that skews competition within the EU.

The state aid guidelines for 2014-2020 allow aid to renewable electricity generation granted as premium, in addition to the market price (feed-in premium) in an open, competitive bidding process on a non-discriminatory basis.

For example, EU state aid law does not allow Germany’s tax rebates on solar power modules and other renewable energy installations of up to two megawatts. Germany’s parliamentary finance committee (Finanzausschuss) has voted to align national taxation with EU laws.

Conclusion

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and UN Climate Change (UNFCCC)’s collective commitment to renewable energy did not stop record levels of heat waves across Europe this summer, which shut down power plants. “Time is running out – we are already seeing worsening climate change impacts around the world –including unprecedented heatwaves – and we need to grasp all opportunities to rapidly deploy clean, renewable energy at scale to prevent the worst climate scenarios form becoming a reality,” said Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC.  The World Meteorological Organization published new data showing 2014-19 to be the warmest five-year-period on record.

Further digitization in the EU is inevitable with the financial sector set to establish a blockchain payment system by 2020 to compete with China’s and the United State’s blockchain based payment systems; a cryptocurrency-based trade finance mechanism called Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX); and a digital currency “Eurocoin”.

Blockchain in the energy market is set to grow five-fold from its current market value to over $25 billion by 2024, as reported in the study by Global Market Insights, Inc. But on the bright side, theEU’s digitization will be solarized with PV installations doubling in the next three years, according to a Wood Mackenzie report, while self-consumption accounts for almost 40% of all new capacity installed, according to the Europe Solar PV Market Outlook 2019.

About the author

Selva Ozelli Esq, CPA is a legal and finance executive with diversified experience dealing in highly complex issues in the field of international taxation and related matters within the banking, securities, Fintech, alternative and traditional investment funds (investing in equity, debt, real estate, derivatives, credit instruments, mortgage backed securities) aerospace and solar energy industries. Her legal analyses involving tax laws, Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), blockchain technology have been published in journals, books and by the OECD.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect those held by pv magazine.