Commission sets UK 15% renewables target

The European Commission has produced a draft Directive requiring 20% of EU energy supply to come from renewables by 2020.1 The UK will have to supply 15% of its energy from renewables to meet its share of the target.

The UK will have to expand its renewable energy resources rapidly and massively to meet 15% of its total energy needs from renewable sources by 2020, under European Commission plans. And 10% of transport fuels will have to be biofuels.

The draft Directive, published as part of the Commission’s climate package in January (see p 46 ), provides the legislative framework to deliver the EU renewables roadmap published last year (ENDS Report 384, pp 26-29 ).

At its heart is a binding 2020 target for 20% of Europe’s primary energy to come from renewable sources. But there are no individual targets for the different forms of energy - electricity, heating and cooling - and it is up to member states to decide on the technologies used to meet the target.

The Commission calculates that its proposals will cut carbon dioxide emissions by 600-900 million tonnes a year, and cut annual fossil fuel consumption by 200-300 million tonnes of oil equivalent.

It proposes a formula for dividing up the effort to meet this target between member states based on their population, wealth, and share of renewables in 2005.

The 2005 baseline will be adjusted to give credit to member states such as Denmark that have managed to increase their renewable capacity by more than 2% between 2001 and 2005. As a result Malta will only have a binding target for 10% renewables, while Sweden will have to source nearly half of its energy from renewables (see table).

The Commission is hoping this transparent approach will head off protracted wrangling between member states over how the target is apportioned. But some are bound to balk at the wide variation in the proposed commitments.

The UK’s target, at 15%, is far higher than the 5% the government said would be achieved with current policies in last year’s energy White Paper (ENDS Report 389, pp 40-42 ). Earlier this year, the government flew into a storm when a leaked ministerial briefing suggested that the UK lobby for a lower target and calculated that meeting a 15% target would cost up to £6.3 billion a year (ENDS Report 391, p 12 ).

This estimate seems very high given that the Commission puts the total Europe-wide cost of meeting the 20% target at €13-18 billion (£9.7-13.4 billion) per year.

There is little doubt that the UK will struggle to meet the target in spite of recent government announcements boosting wind and marine energy (ENDS Report 395, p 7 ). Currently only some 2% of total UK energy needs are met by renewables.

Member states would have to draw up national renewables action plans by March 2010. The plans would specify targets for the share of renewables in the electricity, transport and heating and cooling sectors, and set out the measures proposed to achieve them.

They should set out an "indicative trajectory" with targets towards the 2020 goal. Any states that miss their targets would have to adopt additional measures within a year to get themselves back on track. However those that are on track will be able to sell excess renewable energy to other member states through a trading system based on "guarantees of origin" (GO) certificates.

One GO will equate to 1 MWh of renewable energy. While there is no restriction on renewable electricity sources, only heating or cooling plants with a thermal capacity of greater than 5MW are eligible to generate GOs. No limit is set on the number of certificates a country can buy.

The draft Directive also contains a facility for states to count renewable energy generated outside the EU towards their targets. However, this is only possible if the plants were built after the Directive came into force, and if the energy was consumed in the EU.

The draft Directive also allows for very large renewable projects started before 2016 that are not generating energy by 2020 to count towards the target. But they must be greater than 5GW capacity and must be able to be completed by 2022. This gives the Government more time to consider major projects like the proposed tidal barrage across the river Severn (ENDS Report 393, pp 12-13 ).

The draft includes other measures to promote the growth in renewables such as easing access to the electricity grid, updating building codes to encourage renewable heating and cooling, and streamlining authorisation for new renewable infrastructures.

  • Biofuels: The draft Directive also includes a target for biofuels to make up 10% of each country’s transport fuels by 2020. For a biofuel to count towards this target, it must deliver a minimum 35% greenhouse gas saving compared to the fuel it replaces. This is well below the minimum 50% saving called for by environmental groups.

    It says that the "full carbon effects" of the conversion of land to cultivate biofuels should be incorporated into the carbon-saving calculation. The Commission assumes that biofuels grown on "high-carbon stock lands" like wetlands and forests will not deliver carbon savings in time to compensate for the carbon released during conversion and should therefore not count towards the target (see p 26 ).

    To prevent undue burdens on producers, the draft Directive includes a list of default values for types of biofuels and production processes. The values are similar to those used in the UK renewable transport fuels obligation, but discriminate less in terms of country of origin.

    The Commission has also included sustainability criteria for biofuels to prevent adverse impacts on biodiversity. As a result biofuels should not be grown on - or made from raw materials originating from - areas that in January 2008 were "forest undisturbed by significant human activity… areas designated for nature protection purposes… or highly biodiverse grassland". The Commission will define criteria and areas to help interpret the grassland category.

    Producers will have to demonstrate that their biofuels meet the carbon-saving requirement and sustainability criteria. The rules will also apply to other non-transport bioliquids which are used by member states to count towards the headline renewable energy target or receive sate financial support.

    The Commission also urges member states to give higher levels of support to ‘second generation’ biofuels such as those made from agricultural wastes. It says it is technically possible for the EU to meet all of its biofuels needs from domestic production, but expects imports to play a significant role. The Commission will monitor the situation and propose measures to ensure a "balanced approach between domestic production and imports."