EU 2030 renewables goal 'faces north-south split'

The UK would ultimately sign onto a binding EU 2030 renewables target, predicts a senior Scottish energy official – but the goal will be blocked by southern and central European countries.

“I think if you asked countries around the North Sea to agree [a 2030 target]… they probably would in the end,” says Colin Imrie, head of the Scottish government’s energy and international low-carbon division.

“But the situation is different in southern Europe, where there’s austerity, and in central Europe, where they have a different perspective again, and are particularly keen to develop shale gas.”

The prediction comes in spite of recent reports suggesting the UK government is opposed to a post-2020 EU renewables target, and is lobbying the European Commission to adopt a more technology-neutral “low-carbon” approach – which would see renewables compete openly against nuclear and carbon capture and storage (CCS) in the decades ahead.

At home, the UK renewables industry is intensively lobbying Whitehall to pass a binding decarbonisation target for the domestic power sector – a decision that has been delayed until 2016  as a compromise between the renewables-leaning Department of Energy and Climate Change and the more nuclear-friendly Treasury.

Earlier this month, the heads of six leading wind turbine manufacturers sent an open letter to UK government ministers pressuring them to adopt a decarbonisation target as soon as possible.

The UK might be persuaded to approve a 2030 EU renewables target if all other relevant parties were committed, but there is a distinct lack of appetite for such a target among British officials, warns Gordon Brown, director of policy at the RenewableUK industry group.

“The sense you get is they just want to get the 2020 target done, so they can get on with the things they really want to do, like nuclear and CCS,” Brown says.

Considering its ambitions to lead the global energy and carbon revolution in the decades ahead, the EU has surprisingly few specific targets in place for the decades ahead, especially regarding renewables. The bloc has a binding 20% renewables target for 2020, but no legislation in place for the years beyond.

EU heads of state have informally committed to reducing their carbon output at least 80% by 2050. But the Emissions Trading Scheme – one of the few mechanisms slated to remain in place beyond 2020 – is not designed to bring levels down that far, and so the lobbying battle over future energy policy rages on.

The Commission has predicted that Europe-wide wind installations would fall to 5GW per annum from 2021-2026 in the absence of a post-2020 renewables target, from an anticipated 15GW per annum between 2016-2020.

On 27 March the European Commission is due to publish a “discussion paper” on the EU’s post-2020 energy plans. A widely leaked draft suggests it may propose a 30% renewables target for 2030, though it may also bend to pressure from countries like the UK and focus exclusively on carbon reduction.