EU plans renewables expansion, says coal needs a little more time

A coal and wind turbine in Lower Saxony, Germany. The EU’s desire to move away from Russian hydrocarbons means it will need to find fossil fuels from other parts of the world to fill supply gaps.

Mia Bucher | Images Alliance | fake images

The European Commission has worked out the details of a plan to increase the EU’s renewable energy capacity and reduce its reliance on Russian fossil fuels, while acknowledging that existing coal-fired installations may need to be used for “longer than initially expected.

A document was published on Wednesday outlining the Commission’s objectives for the REPowerEU plan, highlighting the importance of saving energy, diversifying energy imports and accelerating what it called “Europe’s clean energy transition”.

In total, it foresees an additional investment of €210 billion ($220.87 billion) between 2022 and 2027. As regards the share of renewables in the EU energy mix, the Commission has proposed that the current target of 40% by 2030 is increased to 45%.

The Commission’s proposals came on the same day that the governments of Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium said they would aim for a combined target of at least 65 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity by 2030. By mid-century, they aim for 150 gigawatts. GW of capacity.

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On the fossil fuel front, the situation is challenging. Russia was the largest supplier of oil and natural gas to the EU last year, according to Eurostat.

The EU’s desire to move away from Russian hydrocarbons following the latter’s invasion of Ukraine means it will need to find oil and gas from other parts of the world to fill supply gaps.

The Commission said that between 1.5 and 2 billion euros of investment would be needed to secure oil supplies. To import enough liquefied natural gas and pipeline gas from other sources, approximately €10 billion will be needed by 2030.

All of the above comes at a time when the EU has said it wants to be carbon neutral by 2050. In the medium term, it wants net greenhouse gas emissions reduced by at least 55% by 2030, which the EU calls its “Fit for 55 flat”.

The Commission said REPowerEU could not function without what it called “rapid implementation of all Fit for 55 proposals and higher targets for renewable energy and energy efficiency”.

In this new reality, gas consumption in the EU “would be reduced at a faster rate, limiting the role of gas as a transition fuel”, the Commission said.

“However, moving away from Russian fossil fuels will also require targeted security-of-supply investments in gas infrastructure and very limited changes to oil infrastructure along with large-scale investments in the power grid and a hydrogen backbone network across the country. the EU,” he added.

“In parallel, some of the existing coal capacities could also be used for longer than initially expected, with a role also for nuclear power and domestic gas resources,” the Commission said.

During a press conference on Wednesday, EU climate chief Frans Timmermans admitted that using less natural gas in a transition phase would mean “you could use coal a bit more, that has a negative impact on your emissions”.

“But if at the same time, as we propose, you rapidly accelerate the introduction of renewable energies (solar, wind, biomethane), then you have the opposite movement,” he said.

Timmermans, who is the European Commission’s executive vice president for the European Green Deal, went on to stress the importance of finding a middle ground.

“If we can really do what I say, reduce our energy consumption in combination with faster introduction of renewable energy, we will reduce our emissions even faster than before,” he said.

“And then of course we’ll have a little bit higher emissions if people stick to coal a little bit more, but we need to strike a balance so that overall we don’t increase our emissions, hopefully even reduce them more.”

Coal has a substantial effect on the environment, with Greenpeace describing it as “the dirtiest and most polluting way to produce energy”.

Elsewhere, the US Energy Information Administration lists a variety of emissions from coal combustion, including carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, and nitrogen oxides.

The European Commission’s announcement drew criticism from several environmental organizations.

“These plans are supposed to speed up the transition to clean energy, but the European Commission’s latest strategy gives with one hand and takes away with the other,” said Eilidh Robb, anti-fossil fuel campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe.

“The so-called REPowerEU contains useful and necessary advances towards renewable solutions, but simultaneously enables nearly 50 fossil fuel infrastructure projects and expansions,” said Robb.

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