INTERVIEW WITH JEAN-FRANCOIS FAUCONNIER, RENEWABLES POLICY COORDINATOR AT CLIMATE ACTION NETWORK (CAN) EUROPE
Q. Are we going to meet the EU baseline target of 20% by 2020? Were you surprised that only 11 EU countries achieved their targets?
According to the latest report from the European Environmental Agency, the EU as a whole and most Member States remain on track to reach their renewable energy targets. According to Eurostat, 11 Member States have already reached their targets. These include Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, the Nordics, and Romania, while Austria and Slovakia are about 1 percentage point off their targets.
However, progress across the EU is losing some pace and I can’t say I’m too surprised that some Member States still haven’t met their targets. We still have a couple more years until the deadline, but some Members States are very far behind. They have a lot of catching up to do and that is extremely worrying.
According to Eurostat, the Netherlands is farthest from its national target, lagging by 8.2 percentage points, closely followed by France with 7.8 percentage points, Ireland and the UK are both behind by 6.8 percentage points, and Luxembourg at 6 percentage points.
Q. What in your opinion went wrong with France, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Ireland? Why were they the furthest away from their renewable energy goals?
Despite the fact that renewable energy is already very competitive compared to new fossil fuel generation and nuclear, there is still no real level-playing field because the real environmental and health costs of fossil fuels are not sufficiently reflected in the market price. As is, the market price has been subject to much distortion on account of significant public fossil fuel subsidies, and the fact that much of the existing fossil fuel capacity has long been depreciated.
For these Member States, support for renewable energy has not been commensurate with the investment capital required to ensure a transition to a fully renewable and efficient energy system. Plus, there is an absence of meaningful carbon pricing.
In the run-up to 2020, two interim trajectories are of particular interest in assessing the EU and Member States' progress towards their binding targets.There are the minimum indicative trajectories for each country, provided in the directive, and the expected trajectories, adopted by Member States in their National Renewable Energy Action Plans (NREAPs).
In many Member States, these NREAP trajectories are getting steeper towards the end of the decade, making it more difficult to achieve the targets due to delayed action. This provides a strong argument in favour of (binding) linear trajectories for the period 2020-2030. Unfortunately, most Members States resist such a move forward.
Q. You’re currently working on the revised renewables energy directive. What can we expect?
The European Commission’s proposal for a revised renewable energy directive, like the rest of the legislative proposals included in the ‘Clean Energy for All’ package published on 30 November 2016, is not consistent with the Paris Agreement, which requires the immediate overhaul of EU climate and energy policies.
In particular, the ‘at least 27%’ EU-level target to be reached by 2030 included in article 3 of the proposal is based on the target put forward by the European Council before the successful outcome of the Paris climate summit and should therefore be increased. 27% is barely above what would happen under a business as usual scenario and would imply a halving in the rate of deployment (and hence the jobs in supply chains).
The proposed target falls short of the potential contribution of at least 45% renewable energy by 2030, which CAN Europe believes is the minimum that would be consistent with the Paris Agreement. Raising the target has been made much easier by the spectacular drop in the costs of wind and solar energy over the past few years.
Q. R&D and innovation are quoted as being key policy components of the Europe 20/20 strategy. The EU has 30% of global patents in renewables and is committed to prioritizing research and innovation to further drive the energy transition. Will innovation mostly be reflected in policy and technology and do you think enough resources have been invested in this area?
R&D and innovation are important, but holding 30% of global patents in renewables is far from enough to fulfil President Junckers’ promise to make the EU the world’s number one in renewable energy.
Q. New research from Morgan Stanley estimates that renewables will be the cheapest form of power in the world in less than 3 years. Government-backed contracts have assured renewable generators a market for any renewable energy they produce at a guaranteed price. What other factors contributed to this sudden drop in renewable costs?
The 2009 renewable energy directive has had a critical impact on increasing the share of renewable energy and therefore also on cost reductions of renewable energy in the European Union.
Among the determining success factors were the establishment and implementation of national binding targets, as well as the provision of a stable, reliable and predictable overall framework for renewable energy development.
Q. In 2015, your organization, along with Greenpeace and the WWF called on the European Commission to propose a stronger set of policies to ensure all countries deliver and surpass the EU’s 2030 renewable energy target. What were your recommendations for the 2030 agenda and do you think we are getting better at translating the renewable energy transition into law?
CAN Europe has called on the European Parliament and Council to improve the proposed legislation by taking into account the following key political demands:
Increase the overall EU-level target for 2030 to at least 45% renewable energy by 2030, which is the minimum that would be consistent with the Paris Agreement
Re-introduce binding national targets
Compel Member States to adopt national support schemes for renewable energy or at least maintain the possibility for Member States to enact such schemes
Better take into account the specificities of renewable energy communities, namely by increasing the threshold for the size of projects that energy communities can benefit from
Radically improve the Commission’s proposal to ensure the sustainable use of bioenergy– at the very least, they should not support the use of roundwood and whole trees as well as food and feed crops for electricity and heating
Q. Can we do a round-up of the global trends in renewable energy investment in 2017? Are China, India and Brazil the new renewable energy pioneers and could they be 100% renewable by 2050?
In 2015, renewable energy investments in developing countries surpassed those of developed countries for the first time. The biggest renewable investors included, South Africa, Morocco and India.
China is now the world’s biggest investor in renewable technology. In 2017, China was reported to not only create a new record and surpass its 2016 deployment of solar power with more than 50 GW, but also exceed, with this year's installation alone, the total solar capacity of Japan or Germany (about 40 GW). China is also very keen on developing wind power further.
According to the recent and biannually regular assessment of E&Y Financial Services on the ten most attractive countries for renewable energy investment, China is number one, followed by India and the US.
A roadmap developed by scientists at Stanford University shows that China and other major economies could run entirely on renewable energy by 2050.
The technology is there, the economics makes sense and it is first and foremost a matter of political will.
Q. Could the 21st century be the last one for fossil fuels?
As we can only burn a fraction of the known reserves of fossil fuel if we want to avoid unabated climate change, the use of fossil fuels actually has to be phased-out (well) before mid-century.
If the 21st century is not the last one for fossil fuels, then the 21st century will probably be the last one for mankind as we know it…