The Commission takes stock of renewable energy progress

Foto: Bellona

Publish date: April 15, 2013

On 27 March the Commission released its first Renewable Energy Progress Report, indicating that while most of member states are meeting their interim objectives, they need to significantly increase their efforts in order to meet the 2020 targets.

All member states except Sweden, Austria and Estonia will miss their renewable energy targets for 2020 unless new measures are put in place, according to the report.  The analysis shows that most countries either reached or surpassed their 2011/12 interim targets in 2010 due to a strong growth in 2009 and 2010.

However, a further analysis included in the Staff Working Document reveals a less optimistic outlook for 2020. The estimates for the renewable energy share in 2020, based on current policies, ongoing administrative and infrastructure barriers and support schemes disruption, suggest further measures are necessary to stimulate investment.

This suggests that an ambitious low-carbon target – which also allows for large-scale emission reductions through CCS deployment – could be a better option for the EU climate and energy policy post-2020 to help avoid excessive costs and not least the biomass sustainability issues that a very ambitious RES-only target would entail”, says Jonas Helseth, Director of Bellona Europa

The EU renewable energy targets and ways to reach them

The Renewable Energy Directive adopted in 2009 established binding targets for renewable energy. The ultimate goal is to achieve a 20% share of renewable energy in the EU overall energy consumption by 2020. Every Member State has to reach national targets for the overall share of renewable energy in energy consumption. Additionally, all Member States have to reach the same target of a 10% share of renewable energy in the transport sector.

These targets can be met by increasing the share of onshore and offshore wind power,  thermal, photovoltaic and concentrated solar power, hydro-electric and tidal power, geothermal energy and biomass including biofuels and bioliquids.

The Commission takes stock of a discussion about the effectiveness and the efficiency of different types of renewable energy support schemes for at least a decade. It acknowledges that while several types of support schemes exist, they have both positive and distortive features and impacts.

The Commission’s 2012 report “Renewable Energy: a major player in the European energy market” announced plans to publish a guidance to Member States on support schemes.

Urgent efforts are necessary to reform support schemes, given the important role that they play in developing renewable energy nowadays, and given the growing share of renewable energy use in the electricity sector. First, they need to be designed in a cost-effective and market-oriented manner. Second, it has to be made possible to adjust them regularly to reflect decreasing costs of some technologies. We need a level playing field between renewable energy and other indispensable low-carbon technologies such as CO2 capture and storage, “– says Jonas Helseth.

Report vague on sustainability criteria of biomass

For biomass production, the Commission’s report shows a negative trend. While the production necessary to reach the target is 104 Mtoe by 2020, the expected production for 2020 is only in a range of 86 Mtoe. This deviation could be linked to the production cycles of the wood, pulp and paper industries, the Commission concludes and announces an upcoming report on biomass and sustainability which will explore this matter in greater depth.

However, the EU bioenergy sector representatives have long been calling for introduction of EU wide binding sustainability criteria in order to realise the potential of biomass. The EU utilities have already set up voluntary measures by jointly developing sustainability requirements for pelletised biomass and sourcing wood from certified forests. They also insist that these voluntary approaches should be completed by a legal framework at the EU level, especially in light of increasing imports.

The Commission report shows that biofuels have reached a 4.7% share in the EU which is estimated to have generated savings in GHG emissions of 22.6 Mt CO2eq. The “estimated savings are significantly reduced” when ILUC effects and indirect agricultural intensification effects would be taken into account, the Commission acknowledges. Still, the EU executive does not admit explicitly that the production and use of some of biofuels causes more emissions than their fossil equivalents.

bodytextimage_ingressimage_energy_forum-2..jpg Photo: Bellona Murmansk

In 2006, the European Environment Agency (EEA) concluded in a report that up to 15% of energy demand in 2030 could be covered by bioenergy based on sustainable EU resources. Further EEA investigation on the best ways of using the biomass potential in Europe up to 2030 confirms that there is a strong need for integrated energy, agricultural and environmental policies. A cross-policy approach is necessary to ensure that sufficient volumes of biomass are available in the EU without increasing pressure on the environment and food production.


 “The increase in imports of biomass is indeed a problem. Without sustainability criteria some biomass financing programmes could in fact cause more CO2 emissions than the conventional fuels they are subsidised to replace. Harvesting and burning biomass at a faster rate than it grows back and absorbs the CO2 is not an ideal way of generating power.  To this we have to add land use change effects and emissions related to processing and transport. We expect the Commission to go beyond reporting and to put forward an ambitious legislative proposal ‘’,Helseth concludes.