I recently read a post by Claude Turmes Green MEP around Europe’s progress towards President Junkers stated ambition of making the EU a world number one in renewable energy. A very laudable and worthwhile goal.
However, the reality hasn’t panned out as one would have hoped.
EU investments in renewable energy are stagnating with half of EU members not investing in wind – at all. As well as this, solar PV production is a predominantly Chinese industry and EV’s produced in both the US and China being substantially cheaper than those produced in the EU.
Its not all doom and gloom though.
Europe is in a good position around onshore and offshore wind turbines and components. We are leaders in cables, smart grids, smart energy appliances and technology as well as the cultural shift towards green cities. Europe leads the way on green business models as well.
So, what is missing? Turmes puts forward a five-point plan consisting of a long term vision, a sizable home market, research / innovation, partnerships and policy redirection.
Lets have a brief look at each in turn.
1. A Clear Long-Term Vision
The European Parliament voted to strive for a zero-carbon economy by 2050. This isn’t a vision – its has no commitment behind it. After all, to simply strive for an end is no commitment to reach that end. As of yet, I do not believe there is any kind of analysis or thought gone into tying up policy, economy, buildings, transport, agriculture, forestry, energy production and use…………….. so therefore, no clear targets as we don’t yet know the sale of the current, or projected, problem.
2. A Sizeable Home Market
To me, this is a key component of Turmes plan. Prior to the Conservative attack on UK renewables in favour of fracking and nuclear, we clearly witnessed the ripple effect through the economy of an indigenous industry supporting other industries – from accommodation providers to industrial production hubs and the wealth of service firms which fed into the industry. To ensure there is a sizeable home market, the EU has to ensure investor confidence so that markets are not lost to China. This feeds into the wider picture of securing investor cash for innovation as well as ensuring supply chain duty of care around the wider environment and quality assurance.
Large carbon emitters are beginning to move their business models towards a low carbon economy. Steel production is already emitting 50% less carbon than the 1960’s. The industry sees retaining technical leadership whilst meeting the objectives of the Paris agreement as the greatest long-term challenges the industry faces. In the chemical industry, valorisation is being actively pursued. In essence, this is the process whereby emitted carbon is captured and fed back into industrial processes thus reusing CO2 rather than storing it (as in Carbon Capture and Storage) or emitting it.
Until now, key strategies have included a twin track approach of energy efficiency coupled to long term green power procurement via corporate Power Purchase Agreements (PPA’s). Long may they continue.
However, fundamentally, are questions such as:
- Will the worlds first hydrogen fuelled plane be built in the UK or China?
- Will hydrogen powered ships sail from Dover or Shanghai?
- Where will the first zero-carbon steel be manufactured?
Getting innovation funding tied into industrial strategy is key. However, its not in design that the funding needs to be targeted. I believe that the key funding shortfall is in scaling up technology once the concept is proven. To roll this out, actors in the value chain of smart technology, grids, storage, software and generation will take an integrated vision driving an inclusive approach.
There is an appetite in the EU to go green.
This is where the strength lies – to connect citizens with economic actors. Building strong links between business providers and the need for green solutions. Right now, incentivisation is patchy, regional and driven as much by the lobbyists as it is by a sense of common good. Encouraging regions to develop wind, solar, recycling centres, waste processing facilities, hydrogen networks and ensuring that central government supports it as well as champions it is important.
5. Policy Direction
Right now, the EU and many of its member states talk of greening the economy, securing a sustainable future, delivering on decarbonisation – but then pursue policy agendas of free trade which takes no cognisance of supposed green values. We need to move to selective trade agreements and public procurement directives driven by green, environmentally sustainable and social criteria. Circular economy, carbon border adjustments and other lifecycle criteria should prevail.
This sounds very idealistic and there will be readers who scoff at the notions above. However, to make Europe a global number one in green technology and renewable energy will take bold thinking and even bolder actions. So, to answer my initial question, can Europe become a global green technology leader? I believe so but only if action matches ambition. Look to Paris. Look to ozone depletion and how that was tackled. Look to the Convention on Biological Diversity.