Renewable energy: a solution to current and future energy challenges

By Mechthild Wörsdörfer, Deputy Director General Energy, European Commission, (pictured)
Winter 2022

Mechthild Wörsdörfer, Deputy Director General Energy, European CommissionThe revival of productive activities following the pandemic shock triggered larger and simultaneous demand worldwide, driving the prices up for many commodities, including energy. In parallel, Russia's war against Ukraine and its weaponization of energy resources have triggered price volatility and energy insecurity, across the world.

Amid mounting pressures, the Commission has focused on how to transform the energy crisis into an opportunity to accelerate our energy and climate transition by reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. In May 2022, the Commission presented the REPowerEU plan, with the clear aim to reduce dependence from fossil fuels, in particular gas imports from Russia as soon as possible. It built on the idea that the only functioning strategy to phase out fossil fuels is accelerating renewables uptake, increase our energy saving and efficiency efforts, and diversify our energy supplies.

REPowerEU has further levelled up our climate and energy ambitions as set out in the European Green Deal (our long term plan to be climate neutral by 2050), and sends a clear policy signal that renewables and other low carbon fuels will be at the core of the EU future energy system. We intend to deliver on the transformative power of renewables by gathering increasing momentum for their large-scale deployment. In fact, REPowerEU set a higher bar to deliver on the ambitious Fit for 55 Package, our overarching proposal establishing a clear path to achieve emission reduction targets by 2030 in line with the European Green Deal. This concretely means that we proposed an increase of the EU renewable energy target from 40% to 45% by 2030, and from 9% to 13% of the EU energy efficiency target compared to 2020.

Higher-target setting fits with our increased ambition, which is backed up by further initiatives under REPowerEU. For instance, with the EU Solar Energy Strategy presented as part of the plan, we will double solar photovoltaic capacity by 2025 and install 600GW by 2030. Furthermore, on the heels of REPowerEU we also increased our ambition for domestic renewable hydrogen production: the EU and its Member States are now committed to producing 10 million tonnes of renewable hydrogen at domestic level, and to import 10 million green hydrogen from abroad by 2030. Robust hydrogen uptake is consistent with our plan of using it as replacement of natural gas, coal and oil in hard-to-decarbonise industries and some transport sectors.

To release the full potential of REPowerEU, we are working with Member States and stakeholders towards lowering barriers to renewable energy investment. First, under REPowerEU we submitted a Recommendation on accelerating permitting included, and related infrastructure. Lately, on 22 November, we proposed yet another temporary emergency regulation to accelerate the deployment of renewable energy sources as a short term response to the energy crisis. We have also added a RePowerEU leg to our National Recovery and Resilience plans, helping Member States to finance their clean energy transition efforts.

In parallel, we have also worked on the demand side, by proposing earlier this year temporary measures to reduce gas and electricity demand. We have also put forward common gas storage rules to ensure the filling of EU underground storages for this winter and set up the Energy Platform, which will play a key role in pooling demand, coordinating and preparing for joint gas and future hydrogen purchases. Our short-term measures yielded excellent results: by mid-November, EU gas facilities were filled by nearly 95% in average, our gas consumption has declined 10% compared to the average from the period 2019 to 2021, and the share of Russian pipeline gas in EU imports has dropped from 41% in 2021 to 8% as of October 2022.

Looking ahead, sustained growth in renewable energy use will be instrumental in decarbonising and electrifying fossil-reliant sectors, such as transports and heating and cooling, and through increased hydrogen uptake, will also respond to the need to cut down greenhouse gases emissions in hard-to-abate sectors where electrification is not yet a feasible option. Energy storage solutions will be a key enabler of our energy transition, as they are projected to ensure the flexibility, stability and reliability of our entire energy system.

To start with, energy storage solutions are pivotal to manage variable renewable generation output as they smother renewable generation fluctuation and peak demand. Furthermore, their role will be key to integrate low-priced renewables into the energy system and facilitate the electrification of the economy, but also to reduce energy bills and enhance consumers' active participation in the electricity markets. We plan a reform of the electricity market design in the first quarter of 2023.

Confronted with an unprecedented energy crisis, we need to seize this critical juncture for a large overhaul of our energy system, today and looking towards 2030 and 2050. Against this background, together with Member States we are making considerable efforts to speed up the green transition and accelerate the deployment of renewables as a means to bring back energy prices to a lower level and provide a lasting solution for Europe's energy dependence and vulnerability to energy price shocks. Evidence on the ground suggests there is no one-size-fits- all solution that will significantly lower energy prices and ensure our security of supply. We need to keep up our work and our determination on all fronts: energy efficiency and savings, diversification of supplies and a massive deployment of renewables are the long-standing EU recipes out of the energy crisis.