The European Union as a group of 28 member states, is one of the biggest energy consumers and greenhouse gas emitters in the world, as such, the EU’s renewable energy directive has set a binding target for final energy consumption by its members, obtained through renewable sources, of 20% by the year 2020.
Each member state has set their own differing national targets (Malta being the lowest at 10% and Sweden the highest at 49%), each country has set out the strategy they intend to implement to meet their individual targets, but how effective has it actually been?
Tracking the Progress
One significant mark of success came with the news in early February 2017 that, in 2016, Wind power capacity over-took coal to become the second largest form of power capacity in the European Union, second only to gas (although it still falls behind in supplying demand due to its irregular patterns). This was, in part, attributed to five member states breaking national records for wind farm installation (France, Ireland, The Netherlands, Finland and Lithuania), more significant however was the percentage of new capacity developed across member states in 2016 that came from renewable sources, a record breaking 86% totalling a possible output of 21.1GW.
In the UK however the target of 15% of energy obtained from renewable sources has come under criticism, for becoming an environment which has not been attractive enough to investors to be able to achieve so far, one factor was the government initiated, independent review of how much value for money tidal lagoons were, which gave projects an air of uncertainty, giving a negative result on, at least the short term, investment. One particular example is the Swansea tidal lagoon, in which initial reports suggest skeletons of buildings while construction was halted.
The UK is 24th of the 28, in the list for renewable energy consumption at an 8.2% national rate, only a few per cent ahead of 28th place Luxembourg, at 5%. There are calls by some critics that the government needs to do more to encourage the industry, if not by commission, then by omission, one in particular was the recent reform of the Renewable Heat Incentive, which has been criticised as a reason for the stagnation of the growth of the biomass sector.
This view not only needs to take into account large investors and suppliers but also the smaller scale more numerous ones, an example of the initiatives which the government had rolled out previously was a particular scheme aimed at small scale producers of either personal, or local supply, the FIT (Feed-in Tariff) offering 4.85p per unit of electricity sold back to the electricity supplier for up to half of the generation capacity of the site, but this is not aimed at big scale investors or large output sites. This has also been compromised now as there are doubts of its security for the future, as the government are said to have initial plans to raise the tax for those with rooftop schemes from the current 5% to 20%.
With Germany installing 44% of the wind power capacity last year, what could the UK, which has the greatest wind resources of the 28 member states change to meet the target? Individual governments have set their own plans in place, Scotland has stated that it intends to meet a 50% target by 2050, but there seems to be little else in the rest of the UK at this point in time. Could it be time to relax regulations on construction sites, similar to the recent housing crisis solution? Is this possibly the future energy crisis? Do we have to see black outs before the issue is properly addressed by those in power?
The imminent departure of the UK from the rest of the block however has left questions about whether the government intend to keep the 15% target or if they will discard it and replace it with their own target, raising or reducing. In their manifesto the government promised to “halt the spread” of onshore wind farms and so if the recent plans for FIT combined with this promise which they came to power on are anything to make predictions on, there is no wonder the UK industry is stagnating, investors are simply not prepared to gamble their capital on so much uncertainty.
There needs to be a reassurance that, outside of the EU the government will still, at the very least guarantee to stick to current 2020 agreements or better for the industry still, invest and create an environment where we can aim to hit, and improve on 15% final green energy consumption as a nation. Whether you believe in climate change or not, clean power and clean air are something that we all must take very seriously!
The overall target however for the collective member states is still on track, according to the European Commission, and on results published forecasting progress at current rates. The results revealed that if consumption and economic growth can be kept at certain levels then the target of a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in 2020, in comparison to their 1990 level will be achieved and that a 20% final renewable energy consumption will be a reality. Thus it would appear that the 2020 targets are not just a pair of empty frames, but for now, a realistic aim.