These are not easy times for the European Union on energy issues. Its external dependence on fossil fuels (oil, gas, etc.) is very high. Much of that dependency is in the hands of foreign powers (Russia among them), and at this time of war in Ukraine and international pressure on Russia, Europe is at a crossroads. Can you really stop relying on imports of fossil resources from Russia (and other countries)?
It can and should be tried. It is necessary to see if another Europe, energetically speaking, is possible. A Europe progressively less dependent on fossil fuels (wherever they come from). But for this you have to take a set of measures and apply them thoroughly.
This set of actions must include energy saving and efficiency measures; the gradual substitution of fossil fuels supported by a faster deployment of renewable energies both in industry and in homes; careful diversification of energy supply, etc.
Many of these measures were already included and mentioned in the European Union’s Objective 55, its plan for the ecological transition , which now needs to be updated and, given the circumstances, accelerated a little more.
The goals are ambitious. With European climate legislation, the EU has set itself the binding goal of achieving climate neutrality by 2050. To do this, current levels of greenhouse gas emissions will have to be drastically reduced over the coming decades. greenhouse. In an intermediate step towards neutrality, the EU has raised its environmental ambitions by committing to reduce emissions by at least 55% by 2030.
What measures can be taken?
1. Increase the renewable contribution in the energy mix
The first measure is to considerably increase the contribution and contribution of renewable energies in the global energy mix (energy mix of each country), increasing it by an average of 10% more than what is included in the European directive on renewable energy sources .
To carry it out, it would be very convenient to increase the penetration and integration of renewable energies in those sectors in which less progress has been made . In particular in transport, construction and industry.
2. Acceleration and simplification of procedures
To achieve the first measure, time must be reduced and the slow and complex procedures for large renewable energy projects must be simplified. This can be done from a specific modification of the directive on renewable energy sources to recognize these energies of primary public interest. Specific access areas must be established, with low environmental risks, for the installation of renewable energy projects with abbreviated and simplified authorization processes.
These site selection processes must be speeded up and at the same time made precise by making available to citizens data sets on environmentally sensitive areas, as part of the digital mapping tools accessible to users through the websites of the ministries or governance areas involved. These geographic data will be related to energy, industry and infrastructure.
3. Repowering of existing plants
In addition to the installation of new renewable energy plants, the repowering of existing plants could greatly contribute to the achievement of the objectives. In general, existing plants have been installed in places with a significant potential for renewable energy resources. The repowering will guarantee the continued use of these sites and will reduce the need to look for new places to carry out projects.
Repowering includes other benefits such as connection to the existing grid, a likely higher degree of public acceptance, and awareness of existing environmental impacts by having passed an environmental assessment on the previous project.
In these cases, the permitting process, including environmental assessments, should be limited to the potential impacts resulting from the change or expansion compared to the original project.
4. Changes in the transport sector
In the transport sector, measures can be taken in several ways:
In companies and headquarters of transport companies: implementing more renewable energy installations and introducing energy saving and efficiency measures.
At fuel service stations: they have to change their appearance to electric stations that offer gasoline and diesel while the energy transition lasts, but also offer both recharging spaces for electric vehicles and biodiesel, bioethanol, hydrogen and compressed air for land transport.
These charging stations or fuel service stations should be supplied by renewable energies: photovoltaic, mini-wind, etc., both to support fast and medium battery charging equipment and to produce and store hydrogen on site by means of electrolyzers wherever was necessary.
Nor should we lose sight of the necessary changes in refueling stations and alternative sources of energy supply, both to ships in ports and to aircraft parked at aerodromes and airports.
5. Changes in the construction sector
In the construction sector, it is necessary to review upwards the requirements of current regulations, including the Technical Building Code (CTE), in terms of levels of insulation in buildings and the contribution of renewable energies to their consumption. It is advisable to go, sooner rather than later, to standards for new buildings with practically zero energy consumption. When energy renovations are carried out on existing buildings, it is advisable to carry them out according to the zero consumption standard.
The option of developing solar roofs with a gradual legal obligation to install solar panels in new public and commercial buildings and new residential buildings, different from and complementary to what was initially in the CTE and its first versions, should also be included.
In addition, the deployment rate of heat pumps should be more than doubled and measures implemented to integrate geothermal and solar thermal energy into modernized district and community heating and hot water systems.
These measures must always be combined with other specific ones aimed at protecting the most vulnerable consumers .
The REPowerEU Plan and its financing
To encompass and adopt all these measures, the European Commission has just presented the REPower Plan as a response to the challenges that are currently posed in energy matters.
It is a plan that does not walk alone. Its driving force is the Recovery and Resilience Mechanism , which will be developed with the project and financing of the necessary cross-border and national infrastructures, in addition to other reforms. The total plan will require approximately 300,000 million euros of investment, of which 75,000 will come via subsidies and 225,000 have to come through loans .
Between €1.5 billion and €2 billion will go to build pipelines in the EU countries most dependent on Russian oil and another €10 billion will go to gas and liquefied natural gas infrastructure. During this transition they will be necessary, since the future loss of Russian oil and gas imports must be fully compensated.
However, the largest amount of this financing is going to be dedicated to accelerating the penetration of renewable energies, close to 113,000 million euros. Of these, a portion of 27,000 million euros will be invested in hydrogen infrastructure, some 29,000 million euros will be invested in improving electricity distribution networks, 56,000 million to implement energy saving and efficiency systems, 41,000 million to promote the adaptation of the industry to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels and 37,000 million to promote the production of biomethane by the end of the decade.
The European Commission has opened the door for the financing of this REpowerEU Plan to be conducted through the Recovery and Resilience Plan, using the loans not yet used under this plan and which add up to a total of 225,000 million euros. . To all this must be added additional financing through subsidies in charge of the emission rights trading auction, for a value close to 20,000 million euros .
The expected results are ambitious: well executed, this plan would allow the EU to reduce Russian gas purchases by 66% this year and completely free itself from these imports in 2030.
It is important to achieve these goals. Not only to minimize our dependence on energy from abroad or force a healthy change in energy habits and patterns in citizens and businesses, but also to completely turn around the unbalanced relationship that until now we have maintained as Europeans with the energy that we produce, use and consume.