UK ‘falling behind’ on EU renewable energy targets

The European Union (EU) is on track to hit a 20% renewable goal for 2020, despite nations such as the UK, Ireland and Luxembourg struggling to increase the share of renewables in transport and heat sectors, a new European Commission (EC) report has found.

Released today (1 February), the report highlights that renewables claimed a 16.4% share of EU energy consumption in 2015. While the UK appears on track to meet power percentage generation goals – wind, solar and biomass now provide 20% of the UK’s electricity needs – it looks unlikely to hit targets in other areas. When combining all areas of energy demand – including heat and transport – the renewables share sits at 8.2% in the UK.

Under the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive (RED), set in 2009, the UK is expected to generate 30% of its electricity from renewables by 2020, with 12% and 10% targets set for heat and transport respectively. In total, 15% of the UK’s energy consumption should be sourced from renewables by 2020.

An Energy and Climate Change Select Committee report from September revealed that the UK is less than half way to meeting its heat targets, while the share of renewables in transport fuel has flatlined at 4.75%.

Commenting on the EC report, the Renewable Energy Association’s (REA) chief executive Dr Nina Skorupska said: “This is a wake-up call to our Government, which for the past two years has introduced policy changes that have slowed deployment of renewables in the heat, transport, and power sectors.

“The Government should take immediate steps to remove the roadblocks to further renewable energy deployment. Further renewable electricity deployment can help ease the burden on the heat and transport sectors. This can be quickly and cheaply done by re-allowing solar PV and onshore wind to compete in government auctions, and allowing for the further conversion of old coal stations to run on biomass is another affordable, sustainable, and rapid option.”

Skorupska called on the Government to accelerate the timing of Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation, which sets a 9.75% target for 2020. The UK should also move to increase the cap on crops for biofuel production, Skorupska noted.

The Government’s Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), according to Skorupska, was another major barrier in the uptake of renewables, this time in the heat sector. The government launched a consultation into the RHI in March last year. Under the proposed amendments, the industry could be subjected to a 98% reduction in the deployment of non-domestic biomass boilers and an end to support for solar water heating systems.

The UK’s apparent inability to hit the EU’s RED targets is likely to incense campaigners, many of which are of the belief that the 20% targets aren’t ambitious enough. According to the EC report, Member States will have to accelerate efforts in order to hit slightly steeper long-term targets.

As part of the EU’s ratification of the Paris Agreement, the bloc pledged to reduce emissions by 40% against a 1990 baseline. This includes a target to increase the share of renewables in the energy mix to 27% by 2030. The report highlights that France and the Netherlands are in danger of missing these targets.

Friends of the Earth’s renewable energy campaigner Alasdair Cameron added: “As we wait to see what the new White House occupant does to the Paris agreement, it’s a good time for the UK to show proper leadership on climate change by building a renewable-energy system fit for the future.

“Renewable energy is rapidly becoming one of the cheapest forms of energy available, this alone is a compelling reason for it to be at the heart of the government’s new industrial strategy. Wind and solar are already providing a quarter of the UK’s electricity, so we should grasp this opportunity to push further ahead and lead by example.”

Negotiation scrutiny

As the bloc ramps up efforts, the reported noted that a decline in Russian energy imports had created an estimated $17bn in savings, with countries turning to renewables as an alternative.

Imports are currently catalysing the UK’s low-carbon energy shift. Interconnections are already in place with France, the Netherlands and Ireland and a further seven connections – including to Denmark and Norway – are in the pipeline by 2022. According to the European Scrutiny Committee, interconnected electricity could account for around 20% of the UK’s peak energy demand by that time.

On Tuesday, (31 January), the Committee released a report calling on the Government to outline its renewable energy strategy as it embarks on its exit journey from the EU. The Committee raised concerns over eight legislative proposals, listed by the EC under a Clean Energy Package, revolving around “putting efficiency first” and “achieving global leadership” in renewables.

The Committee called for clarity on an array of renewables legislation and targets, but noted that the EU’s energy performance of buildings and energy efficiency legislation would likely be implemented in the UK before it leaves the Union, due to a “swift” 12-month implementation period.

“We understand the Government’s concerns not to prejudice Brexit negotiations, but in this, and in other cases, the Government’s position can only be understood and evaluated with more information on the Brexit related aspects of the proposals,” the report said.

Currently, the EC package makes little reference to sourcing energy to “third countries” – which the UK would fall under once it leaves the EU – and the report calls on the Government to provide some indication of how these trade deals would be implemented.

As well as concerns relating to additional costs of EU legislation, Government representatives such as Minister of State Baroness Neville-Rolfe have aired worries over the Commission’s targets, claiming they go “beyond” agreements reached at previous European Council meetings. Under the EC package, any Member State that falls below baseline consumption and renewable targets would be required to pay into a Commission fund to finance further renewable projects.

Matt Mace

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