We are living times of the so-called ‘energy transition’ generally defined by the World Energy Council (2014) as a long-term structural change in energy systems. Transition means change, but also means an on-going process and societies can shape this change path by making well-informed decisions on essential components like the energy matrix. It is not a matter of replacing fossil fuels or positioning renewable energy versus fossil fuels. It is much more than that.
The modern energy production lines are based on a gradual replacement of the fossil fuels line by the clean energy line of production. Renewable sources of energy like wind power, solar power, hydroelectric power, ocean energy, geothermal energy, biomass and biofuels are viable alternatives to make this gradual replacement of fossil fuels and not only contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but they also have the power to diversify energy supply and to reduce dependence on unreliable and volatile fossil fuel markets, in particular oil and gas.
The European Union is an example of leadership in renewable energy technologies by holding 40% of the world’s renewable energy patents, and more than half of the world’s renewable electricity capacity (excluding hydropower) was located in the EU. The renewable energy industry in the EU currently employs about 1.2 million people and the regional block continues to be a remarkable source of modern legislation in these times of energy transition (Kerebel and Stoerring, 2016 ).
The legal framework of the EU energy system is mainly based on Article 194 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union establishing that the EU energy policy is aimed at promoting the development of new and renewable forms of energy. The evolving path of the EU energy objectives started in 1997 in the period of post White Paper on renewable energy sources, when the EU set initial targets for the use of renewable energy sources to meet 12% of energy consumption and 22.1% of electricity consumption needs by 2010.
The following step was the Directive 2001/77/EC on the promotion of electricity from renewable energy sources for the internal electricity market by setting the indicative targets for each Member State. In 2004, a new objective was set for the EU-25 to generate 21% of electricity from renewable energy sources. The challenges in achieving the 2010 targets led to the review and design of a more comprehensive legislative framework in 2007 entitled ‘Renewable Energy Road Map — Renewable energies in the 21st century: building a more sustainable future’ (COM(2006) 0848), when the EU framed its long-term strategy for renewable energy until 2020. In this opportunity, the EU Commission set a mandatory target of using renewable energy sources to meet 20% of EU energy consumption needs by 2020, a mandatory target of 10% of transport fuel consumption coming from biofuels by 2020, and the need for a transitional legislative framework.
The next step to reshape the EU energy policy and regulation was the Renewable Energy Directive, adopted by the nation states in April 2009 (Directive 2009/28/EC, repealing Directives 2001/77/EC and 2003/30/EC), setting a mandatory 20% share of EU energy consumption based on renewable energy sources by 2020, consisting in a mixed formula of nationally binding sub-targets taking into account the Member States’ different energy systems. The directive also mapped out various mechanisms that Member States can apply in order to reach their targets like support schemes, sustainability criteria for biofuels, joint projects, cooperation between Member States and third countries.
The EU Commission has also assessed Member States’ progress towards achieving their 2020 targets and made ‘Renewable energy: a major player in the European energy market’ (COM(2012) 0271), by identifying mature technologies, sources of investments and cooperation mechanisms to achieve renewable energy targets at a lower cost (COM(2013) 7243) and with special attention to environmental protection and energy 2014-2020 (2014/C 200/01) to further shape the post 2020 framework for renewable energy support schemes, policies and regulation.
Renewable energy plays a key role in the EU long-term strategy as outlined in its ‘Energy Roadmap 2050’ (COM(2011) 0885) as well as the decarbonisation of the economy accounting for a renewable energy share of at least 30% by 2030 involving binding targets in relation to the climate change and energy policies according to ‘the 2030 framework for climate and energy policies’ (COM(2013) 0169) and supported by the Energy Roadmap 2050, the Energy Infrastructure Package, the ‘Blue Energy: Action needed to deliver on the potential of ocean energy in European seas and oceans by 2020 and beyond’ (COM(2014) 0008)).
The future policy framework for the post-2020 period is under discussion in Europe signalizing to a joint effort of new partners and energy producer regions. This is a consistently evolving planning and implementation energy path leading Europe and partners to a decentralised, more efficient and cooperative sustainable energy management systems of the future.
Kerebel, C. and Stoerring, D. (2016) Fact Sheets on the European Union. Available at http://www.europarl.europa.eu
World Energy Council (2014) Global Energy Transitions: A comparative analysis of key countries and implications for the international energy debate. Available at: https://www.atkearney.com/documents/10192/5293225/Global+Energy+Transitions.pdf/220e6818-3a0a-4baa-af32-8bfbb64f4a6b
Written by Dr. Gisele M Arruda (PhD, FHEA, FRGS) who is a principal researcher, PhD supervisor and lecturer on Global Energy Management Systems, Renewable Energy and Environmental Management.