As tensions escalated between Russia and Ukraine in March, raising fears of disruptions to European gas supplies, EU leaders asked the European Commission to draw up a plan to reduce the EU’s energy dependence. The EU spends over €1bn each day buying over half of its energy from foreign countries (53 per cent in 2012). But in a draft copy of the plan leaked yesterday, the Commission talks very little about the EU’s options to effectively reduce imports and energy dependence.
The plan makes it clear that the Commission sees the problem in the “strong dependence from a single external supplier” of energy (Russia), but not in the external supply of energy. Its answer to Europe's addiction to imported fossil fuel is to look for fossil fuels elsewhere. Any measures mentioned in the plan to help save energy or develop home-grown renewables lack teeth, ambition and concrete proposals.
In fact, there is very little that is concrete in the paper beyond short-term contingency measures: the Commission wants EU countries to “stress test” their energy supply and develop “back-up mechanisms, if necessary”. It announces a review of EU regulations on gas supplies for the end of 2014, and lists 34 priority infrastructure projects (at a cost of €15 billion), several of them already underway.
Beyond that, the Commission suggests setting a 2030 target for countries to build more power lines to improve the flow of electricity around Europe. It wants countries to connect 15 per cent of their power capacity to neighbouring countries.
In most other areas, the Commission proposes very little by way of concrete measures. For example, it recognises that greater efficiency in the building sector could cut Europe’s energy demand by a whopping 30 per cent and gas use by 25 per cent (although it does not say by when). But it fails to detail any measures to ensure that Europe can harness this potential.
The Commission’s plan refers to a proposal for a European energy union touted by Polish prime minister Donald Tusk but draws even more heavily on a UK-backed paper on energy security. Like the UK paper, the Commission’s plan considers options to diversify fossil fuel suppliers, boost the use of shale gas, accelerate priority infrastructure projects and put in place some emergency measures to improve resilience to gas supply disruptions.
Elephant in the room
The Commission does a pretty good job at ignoring the elephant in the room – fossil fuels are so scarce in Europe that they can only come from abroad. The real solution to this is a reduction in energy demand and a rapid shift to abundant, home-grown renewables.
The Commission’s own research shows that a 35 per cent EU renewables target and ambitious energy efficiency policies would reduce EU energy imports by 22 per cent by 2030, compared to 11 per cent under the Commission’s January proposal for 2030 targets. And they would reduce the EU’s gas imports by 28 per cent by 2030, compared to only 9 per cent in the Commission’s proposal. More ambitious targets would have an even bigger impact.
The UK government has made it clear it wants the EU to stay away from any binding and ambitious targets on energy efficiency and renewables. But the Commission should remember that it is drawing up a plan for 28 EU member states. It knows what it takes to reduce EU energy dependence and should set out the best possible measures to address the problem, not only in the short-term but also in the medium and long term. It should then leave it to EU leaders to decide how seriously they want to pursue this goal.
Greenpeace EU energy & transport policy director