EU unveils plan to become independent from Russian fossil fuels ‘well before 2030’
The European Commission has outlined plans to accelerate some of the EU's plans on renewables and gas storage, in light of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
The plans, published this afternoon (8 Match), are being dubbed the ‘REPowerEU’ strategy. They have been drawn up, the Commission said in a statement, in response to the ongoing energy price crisis, which has been exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The price hikes are largely due to global discrepancies in supply and demand, with demand having been higher than expected this winter in much of Asia, and supply from key exporters including Russia unable to keep pace. According to Eurostat, 39% of the EU’s annual gas imports and around 30% of its annual oil imports come from Russia.
“We simply cannot rely on a supplier who explicitly threatens us,” European Commission President Ursla von der Leyen said in unveiling REPowerEU.
“We need to act now to mitigate the impact of rising energy prices, diversify our gas supply for next winter and accelerate the clean energy transition. The quicker we switch to renewables and hydrogen, combined with more energy efficiency, the quicker we will be truly independent and master our energy system. I will be discussing the Commission’s ideas with European leaders at Versailles later this week, and then working to swiftly implement them with my team.”
In other words, RePowerEU is not yet finalised or binding. Discussions in Versaille will likely prompt questions as to why nuclear is so notably absent from the plan.
At present, it details a mix of solutions including gas storage within Europe; accelerating the rollout of wind and solar; improving building energy efficiency and helping businesses to electrify manufacturing and transport. On renewables, there are proposals to speed up the permit process for grid-scale arrays and to explore improvements to programmes delivering rooftop solar combined with domestic energy storage and heat pumps.
There are also measures to diversify gas supplies, including a doubling of the EU’s current ambition on biomethane. The updated proposal is for the bloc to produce 35 billion cubic metres of biomethane by 2030 – largely from agricultural waste and residues. Additionally listed here is the launch of a hydrogen accelerator project, involving policymakers, academics and industry. This will be tasked with delivering another 10 million tonnes of imported renewable hydrogen and an additional 5 million tonnes of domestic renewable hydrogen generation his decade.
These are all longer-term measures that will take place over a period of months and years. The package also includes more “urgent” measures to protect customers from rising energy costs, with a focus on the most vulnerable. It promises that the Commission will consider setting a price cap for the utilities sector and will also look at windfall taxes on fossil fuel majors, compounded with tax breaks for retrofitting. The UK Government has notably rubbished both of these proposals.
The Commission will also consult with member states on a potential temporary framework through which to provide grant funding to energy companies struggling to stay afloat.
Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans said: “It is time we tackle our vulnerabilities and rapidly become more independent in our energy choices. Let’s dash into renewable energy at lightning speed. Renewables are a cheap, clean, and potentially endless source of energy and instead of funding the fossil fuel industry elsewhere, they create jobs here.”
The publication of the plans comes less than 24 hours after the UK’s Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, confirmed that the UK Government will publish a new energy supply strategy before the end of the week. Johnson has hinted that the strategy will, unlike the EU’s plans, include an increase in domestic fossil fuel production. This has disappointed many climate and energy experts who have pointed out that, as gas is a globally traded commodity, increased domestic production will likely only bring minor benefits in terms of reduced energy bills for British customers. The Government’s own advisory body, the Climate Change Committee (CCC), issued this warning less than a fortnight ago.