The EU plans to expand renewable energy, says coal needs a little more

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

Mia Bucher | Alliance Image | Getty Images

The European Commission has deepened the details of a plan to increase the EU’s renewable energy capacity and reduce its dependence on Russian fossil fuels, while recognizing that existing coal plants may need to be used “longer than originally planned “.

A paper was released on Wednesday outlining the Commission’s objectives for the REPowerEU plan, underlining the importance of saving energy, diversifying energy imports and accelerating what has been termed “the clean energy transition in Europe”.

In total, it foresees an additional investment of 210 billion euros (220.87 billion dollars) between 2022 and 2027. Regarding the share of renewables in the EU energy mix, the Commission has proposed to increase the current target of 40% by 2030 to 45%.

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

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On the fossil fuel front, the situation is difficult. Last year Russia was the main supplier of oil and natural gas to the EU, according to Eurostat.

The EU’s desire to wean itself off Russian hydrocarbons following Ukraine’s invasion of Ukraine means it will have to find oil and gas from other parts of the world to fill supply gaps.

The Commission said that EUR 1.5 to 2 billion of investments would be needed to secure oil supplies. To import enough liquefied natural gas and pipeline 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 to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030, which the EU calls ” Fit for 55 “floor.

The Commission said REPowerEU could not function without what it called “swift 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 decline 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 across the country. ‘EU “, he added.

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

At 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 little longer, which has a negative impact on your emissions “.

“But if at the same time, as we propose, you quickly accelerate the introduction of renewables – solar, wind, biomethane – then you have the opposite movement,” he said.

Timmermans, Executive Vice President of the European Commission for the European Green Deal, went on to stress the importance of finding a middle ground.

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

“And then, of course, we will have slightly higher emissions if people stick to coal a little longer, but we have to find the balance so that, on balance, we don’t increase our emissions – we also hope to reduce them by a bit. 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 range of emissions from coal burning, including carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, and nitrogen oxides.

The announcement by the European Commission has attracted criticism from numerous environmental organizations.

“These plans are expected to accelerate the transition to clean energy, but the European Commission’s latest strategy gives with one hand and takes with the other,” said Eilidh Robb, activist against fossil fuels at Friends of the Earth Europe.

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