The European Union has long been a leader in the global energy transition, thanks to its advocation for the rollout of clean technologies, coupled with an ambitious decarbonisation agenda. Under its REPower EU plan released last May, and building on the implementation of the Fit for 55 proposals, the bloc now wants to generate 45 per cent of its power from renewables by 2030, with the intention to more than double solar installations to 320GW by 2025 and 600GW by 2030. This is expected to reduce consumption by 9 BCM by 2027. This policy sends a clear signal that the European Union aims to come out of the current crisis with a renewed commitment to climate action and recognises the untapped potential of reducing fossil gas use in industry.
Shocked into action – but are we on track?
EU Member States have made remarkable progress in phasing out Russian fossil gas, and the launch of the REPower EU plan has shown signs of promise. As of the May 2023 “one year on” report, gas consumption has dropped by 18%, renewables have claimed a larger portion of the energy mix with a trajectory for further growth, and the reliance on Russian gas has been significantly diminished.
The performance of individual member states, however, has not been equal across the board. In its race to net zero, Germany’s streamlined permitting process and reduced environmental assessments for wind and power projects have produced favourable market conditions for the expansion of renewables. For its European counterparts, particularly in the south, progress is less evident, where opaque and laborious permitting processes are creating bottlenecks and driving up costs.
Moreover, for REPower EU to reduce dependency on fossil fuels, particularly gas, it requires immediate action on buildings’ energy consumption, which will require a minimum energy performance rating of G and F by 2030 and 2033, respectively. For older buildings that weren’t designed with these specifications in mind, this prerequisite brings with it a monumental challenge and some difficult questions to answer – how will families be able to sustain this cost?
A call for change from the bottom up
The need to change the current energy system is now an accepted fact, but there are barriers to transformative collective action. It is true that so far, technology has been the enabler in reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, but technology does not create behavioural change. Not least, energy specialists acknowledge that consumer behaviour can be hard to influence unless the alternative meets unmet or under-served needs.
While most energy usage occurs in industrial processes, individual consumers also have a responsibility to reduce their energy footprint. Many still leave lights on, keep electronics plugged in when not in use, and heat rooms that are rarely occupied. Additionally, there is an ongoing reliance on single-use items instead of opting for more durable alternatives. It’s important to recognise that the production, transportation, storage, and sale of goods all require energy in some form or another, so reducing consumer demand can have a significant impact on overall energy consumption.
A bottom-up, all-of-society approach could accelerate global progress on climate change in Europe and beyond, helping people foster a sense of ownership and agency in tackling the crisis. A large share of energy consumption in the EU comes from households – as a result, consumers may hold the key to the energy transition.
Nevertheless, this still requires balancing what is best for the planet with what is affordable and realistic for millions of people, which can be achieved by way of appropriate price incentives, resources to ensure access to more sustainable service and commitment to sustain behavioural changes.
Key priorities for shared outcomes
The shift toward an eco-friendly economy is not solely a domestic challenge. In a continent characterised by small states with numerous shared borders, energy systems are becoming more interconnected. As a result, the consequences of actions or inaction ripple beyond borders. However, the energy transition across Europe still lacks a uniform approach due to the heterogeneity in the organisation of energy infrastructures across the continent, producing relative challenges for each country to reach targets, ranging from legal issues to energy supply issues to geography and local politics.
Easing administrative procedures and tackling permitting process bottlenecks at both European and national levels is crucial to expanding renewable energy capacity in Europe. Not only this but harnessing a better understanding of the diverse ways individual actors can support in securing the transformation is essential to planning and preparing for this scenario.
A holistic approach is essential to optimise efficiencies and harness all possible synergies and sector couplings, moving beyond the isolated examination of static assets, considering them in their broader context and surroundings, and collectively addressing energy needs and outcomes.