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Carbon Brief Staff

Carbon Brief Staff

02.05.2013 | 12:00pm
SciencePolicyLords: EU must coordinate Europe’s renewable energy future
SCIENCE | POLICY | May 2. 2013. 12:00
Lords: EU must coordinate Europe’s renewable energy future

It’s quite possible for the EU’s future energy mix to be based on renewables, but it will require policy coordination.

That’s the message from a House of Lords sub-committee in a report released this morning. The cross-party group called for the EU to coordinate action to increase renewable energy support and phase out the use of fossil fuels across the continent.

Coordinating renewables

The committee says the EU should help countries share best practice on supporting renewables growth – though it stops short of recommending an EU-wide subsidy scheme. 

It says Germany’s energiewende, or ‘energy transition’, shows it is possible to bring large amounts of intermittent renewable electricity generation online without overloading the grid. Aided by government subsidies, German solar generation increased by over 50 per cent last year, and Germany has the most installed wind capacity in Europe. 

But the committee says the EU would need to coordinate action if Germany’s renewables revolution is to be replicated across Europe. 

At the moment, Germany has to use neighbouring countries’ grids when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing strongly. The committee says this means an EU-wide ramping up of renewables would require the European Commission to oversee grid and storage upgrades across the continent. 

That challenge “should not be underestimated, but nor need it be an obstacle to the further development of renewable energy,” it says.

Fossil fuels’ future relies on carbon capture and storage (CCS)

The report claims the development of CCS technology is critical for the future of fossil fuels – reaching the same conclusion as parliamentary report earlier this month. Across Europe, the committee says:

 “CCS could make a larger contribution than anything else to reducing greenhouse gas emissions”. 

But Europe is already lagging behind when it comes to developing the technology. The committee notes that “it is particularly disturbing that as the need for CCS has increased, the effort to deliver it appears to have diminished”. It urges the EU to redouble its efforts to incentivise the development of CCS through increased funding and by bolstering the carbon price – making fossil fuels without CCS economically unattractive.

Don’t count on nuclear and shale gas

Even with a fossil fuel phase-out, the committee does not anticipate nuclear power or shale gas to play a significant role in the EU’s energy mix.

A number of new European nuclear plants have experienced significant delays and cost overruns. All this is harming confidence in committing to building new plants across the continent, the committee notes.

And it seems shale gas is unlikely to be a game-changer, either, according to the committee. While it supports the use of conventional gas as an interim energy source, it says the EU is unlikely to replicate the US’s shale gas revolution due to regulatory complications and potential difficulties in garnering public acceptance. 

EU’s coordinating role

According to the BBC this morning, the committee has urged the EU to invest â?¬1 trillion to develop Europe’s ageing energy infrastructure. Member states currently rely on each others’ grids to store electricity and support their own renewables growth.

The peers argue this ad hoc approach is unsustainable on a large scale, meaning the EU will increasingly have to step in to coordinate Europe’s low carbon energy development. More European regulation is unlikely to please everyone however, as Member States’ rhetoric increasingly emphasises national energy independence.

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