The European Commission unveiled proposals to further boost renewables and quadruple current 2030 targets for green hydrogen supplies as part of a hastily assembled strategy to cut the EU’s reliance on Russian gas by two-thirds as soon as the end of this year.

The Commission claimed that measures in its REPowerEU plan could make the bloc independent of Russian supplies “well before 2030” as it scrambled to respond to the implications of the invasion of Ukraine.

Alongside a raft of short-term proposals focused on getting more fossil gas from non-Russian sources and boosting gas storage, the plan focuses heavily on the need to electrify using renewables and increase the profile of green hydrogen in the EU economy.

Commission vice president for the European Green Deal Frans Timmermans said: “It is time we tackle our vulnerabilities and rapidly become more independent in our energy choices.

“Let's dash into renewable energy at lightning speed. Renewables are a cheap, clean, and potentially endless source of energy and instead of funding the fossil fuel industry elsewhere, they create jobs here.”

Timmermans added: “It's hard, bloody hard. But it's possible.”

On renewables, REPowerEU proposes beefed-up ambitions beyond those already set out in its ‘Fit for 55’ decarbonisation strategy, which currently foresees deployment of 900GW of wind and solar by 2030. The Commission wants ‘front loading’ of wind and PV to speed build-out and an extra 80GW of capacity to support more green hydrogen production.

Key to its renewables plans will be moves to speed up permitting of new projects and sweep away red tape – a long-standing demand of the European wind and solar sectors.

'Hydrogen Accelerator'

For H2, REPowerEU proposes a ‘Hydrogen Accelerator’ programme to spur an additional 15 million tonnes of renewable hydrogen by 2030 on top of the 5.6 million tonnes already foreseen under its existing Hydrogen strategy.

That would comprise 10 million tonnes imported from “diverse sources” and an extra five million tonnes made in the EU.

The Commission also pledged to fast-track market reforms to promote development of hydrogen projects and infrastructure such as storage.

“Other forms of fossil-free hydrogen, notably nuclear-based, also play a role in substituting natural gas,” it added.

Brussels claimed the total package of REPowerEU measures – which will now be discussed by EU leaders – could deliver at least the equivalent of the 155 billion cubic metres of imported Russian gas that currently make up 40% of the bloc’s total supplies.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said: “We must become independent from Russian oil, coal and gas.

“The quicker we switch to renewables and hydrogen, combined with more energy efficiency, the quicker we will be truly independent and master our energy system.”

Industry thumbs-up

The European power-sector trade association Eurelectric welcomed the EU's plans.

“Reducing gas imports from Russia by two-thirds still this year is difficult, but doable,” said Eurelectric secretary-general Kristian Ruby.

“Lowering Europe’s dependence on fossil imports will require a reliable electricity system drawing on the full range of technologies. It is encouraging that the European Commission actively seeks to harvest the clean-energy potential of electricity by accelerating heat pump installations and deployment of new renewable projects. Permitting delays remain the key barrier for new power capacity.”

More than ever, Europe now needs to tap into its massive wind energy resources.

Trade body WindEurope echoed Ruby’s calls to speed up permitting, calling it “a matter of urgency”.

“More than ever, Europe now needs to tap into its massive wind energy resources,” said WindEurope CEO Giles Dickson.

“Speeding up the growth of wind is central to achieving energy security. And we need to do it with European technology. Europe must do everything to preserve our world-leading wind energy supply chain. Accelerate permitting. Have smarter wind auctions that factor in wind energy’s contributions to a robust, resilient and circular economy. And boost research and development.”