Commission shies away from renewables target for 2020

The European Commission is looking to delay setting an EU renewables target for 2020 - largely because it expects the existing targets for 2010 to be missed. Environmental groups warn that such a move would undermine the European renewables industry and the EU's leadership role on climate change.

In 1997, the European Union set a target for renewable energy to deliver 12% of gross inland energy consumption by 2010 - including heat, electricity and transport fuel.

A 2001 Directive also requires Member States to adopt national targets for the proportion of their electricity consumption to be sourced from renewables by 2010. The UK was allocated a target of 10%, contributing to an aggregate EU target of 22% (ENDS Report 318, p 44 ).

Since then it has become increasingly obvious that the target will not be met. A draft Communication from the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, leaked in May, says that existing policies will give renewables an 18-19% share of the electricity market by 2010. The Commission blames a number of Member States that "have not yet introduced active policies in line with the targets they adopted."

Only Denmark, Germany and Spain are on track to meet their 2010 targets, the Commission says. Greece and Portugal are definitely not on track.

The UK is one of eight Member States for which there are "a mixture of positive and negative indications". The UK - which is languishing near the bottom of the league table (see table) - has "actively invested in a new policy although the full results have yet to materialise". In 2003, renewables' market share fell thanks to reduced output from hydroelectric plants (see p 13 ).

Six Member States saw a fall in renewables' contribution between 1997 and 2002. Rising electricity demand and low hydro output during 2002 may partially explain this shortfall.

On the basis of these dispiriting results, the Commission is rejecting calls for stronger renewables targets beyond 2010. The draft says that "the first step is for national policies to be put in place sufficient to give confidence that the 2010 targets will be met. Only at that stage will the EU have the basis it needs to build a realistic scenario for renewable energy use in the EU25 for the period that follows."

The Communication is being prepared in the run-up to the World Renewable Energy Conference in Bonn in June. This will develop the global renewables initiative that arose from the Johannesburg earth summit in 2002 (ENDS Report 330, pp 21-24 ).

The EU is expected to make announcements in Bonn about the future direction of its renewables policy. A preparatory conference in Berlin in January urged EU institutions to set ambitious targets beyond 2010, and concluded that a target for renewables to contribute 20% of gross inland energy consumption by 2020 is "achievable".

The European Parliament has also called upon the Commission and the Council of Ministers to "make necessary efforts" to ensure that this level of renewables is achieved by 2020.

Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and WWF have written to the Commission claiming that the EU's international leadership on climate change and renewables would be "fatally undermined" if no target is set for 2020. They describe the draft as "fundamentally flawed" because it uses out-of-date data for renewables development and underestimates the effect of energy efficiency measures - particularly a proposed Directive on energy services. The groups are calling for 25% of the EU's primary energy to come from renewables by 2020.

In late May, it emerged that the Commission is delaying the release of the Communication. The renewables industry body EREF dubbed the postponement "a disaster for Europe" - although WWF suggested that the Commission may be reconsidering the case for 2020 targets.

The draft Communication does contain some positive proposals. For instance, the Commission will bring forward a "co-ordinated biomass plan, with a clear approach to securing adequate supplies of biomass".

The Commission does not intend to pursue a renewable heat Directive modelled on the renewable electricity Directive as there is no single heating supply industry to whom targets could be assigned. It will, however, be proposing further initiatives - perhaps including legislation - to boost biomass heating, solar thermal and geothermal heating.

The Commission is also proposing a new financial instrument to support "first market replications" of just-proven renewable and energy-efficient technologies.

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