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License: All rights reserved. Credit: Greenpeace

How to boost clean energy and efficiency in Europe and what it would mean

Damian Kahya
Damian Kahya is Energydesk editor
License: All rights reserved. Credit: Gazprom

This is the usual trope for visualising imports from Russia. Look, all they have to do is turn that thing and we all freeze. Except its summer. And that's not true. 

Proposals from the European Union to set new emissions and renewable targets would do very little to reduce fossil fuel imports - according to an analysis of European Commission figures.

The study is based on research by the German Institute of Technical Thermodynamics for Greenpeace, found that adopting more ambitious targets on clean energy, emissions and efficiency would cut energy imports by a further 45%.

The current plans would see energy imports fall by just 11% by 2030 whilst the EU’s annual fuel bill would actually rise over the same time period.

The study comes as Europe’s leaders meet to discuss the proposals amid rival proposals for a new efficiency target at an EU level.

The EU is looking to cut carbon emissions by 40% with a 27% renewable target by 2030.

The report asks if it’s possible to go further, cutting emissions by 55% with a 40% efficiency target and a 45% renewable energy target.

How?

1) Use less power and get more of it cleanly

If you sort of like wind turbines you use arty shots like this. If you don't, you use pictures of them despoiling the landscape somehow. We went arty.

Right now the biggest source of carbon emissions is the power sector - coal, oil and gas plants produce about half the power we use.

By 2030 the report suggests 75% of Europe’s power could come from renewables with wind and solar power contributing about the same amount that gas and coal do today.

But the wind doesn’t always blow, so renewable power needs new technology - from smart meters and appliances in the home to smart grids, which balance supply and demand by making power cheaper when there is lots of it. The report also suggests that a limited supply of reliable solar power from North Africa could make a big difference.

And of course you need to build fewer wind turbines if you use less power. EU policies to promote more energy efficient appliances (think fridges) would - in this plan - actually cut power use. 

2) Improve car efficiency and sell (a few) more Leaf’s, Twizys and Volts…

This... thing is called the Twizy. In the future, we predict, electric cars will look more like normal cars and be called things like "mondeo". Or maybe, they'll all look like this. 

Actually most of the savings here don’t come from snazzy electric vehicles (it only assumes 12% of transport being electrified), they just come from more fuel efficient petrol and diesel cars driving fewer miles.

There are also changes to public transport. Many trains still run on diesel - so that would change - and goods would be moved from lorries on motorways to the railway network.

Oh, and then there are electric cars which, by 2030, we think may have less silly names.

3) Stop using gas for heating, use the ground instead

What's that you say? This is Iceland and Iceland isn't part of the EU? This is NOT Iceland. This is North of The Wall. Oh, ok, it's Iceland. 

Just got that gas boiler? Don’t worry, this is a slowish process. Renewables (think wood chips) currently account for about 15% of Europe’s heating - that’d need to ramp up to close to 50% within 15 years.

How? Well energy efficiency, through home insulation schemes and new building standards, could cut heating needs by a fifth, making the target easier to hit.

At the same time you’d need measures to promote renewable heating which often involves running pipes into the ground or under the sun to warm water (solar thermal, ground source heat pumps).

The UK government, for example, just started rolling out its incentive programme though that is designed for individual homes whereas it may be more efficient to provide heating to entire districts - like they do in Iceland (see above). 

Which would mean?

1) Power would cost more, but bills might not be higher

The big worry about being more ambitious is that it costs more.

The report finds that the cost of clean energy to deliver on more ambitious targets would cost around 1.75 trillion euros by 2030 about 195 billion euros more than the Commission’s modest proposals.

When it comes to the power price paid by consumers that works out at a difference of less than 2 cents/kwh by 2030 - by a rough calculation that would work out at around 90 euros extra a year in the UK.

By 2050 - the report concludes power would be cheaper in the high renewables scenario than with the EU’s current plan.

Bills may also be cut by efficiency savings, which - whilst requiring an upfront investment - often deliver significant cuts in energy usage. 

All of this is actually remarkably similar to what the UK’s independent Committee on Climate change says on bills.

2) We would import less oil, gas and coal

Some 54% of Europe’s energy is imported, a figure which would change only marginally under current EU plans.

Moves to improve efficiency and boost clean energy could cut imports by 45% compared to where they would be otherwise.

For example, more efficient and electric transport would cut oil imports by 45% whilst using less gas for power and heating would cut gas imports by over a third. Coal, much of which comes from Russia, would no longer be imported at all - as we’d barely use it.

That said, this isn’t an overnight cure.

The modelling suggests that by 2020 EU gas use would be falling - but so would production - seeing imports actually rise on 2015.

In short, there is no quick fix - but more clean energy and efficiency could have a fairly big impact over the medium term.

This matters financially. The EU spends approximately 421 billion euros (net) each year on energy imports so any savings on imports would see more of the money households spend on energy recycled within the European economy.

3) It would significantly reduce emissions

More clean energy and more efficiency means lower carbon dioxide emissions - allowing a more ambitious target of 55%, according to the study.

The emissions reductions would be most marked in the previously dominant power generation sector which would end up accounting for a smaller share of Europe’s emissions than trucks, cars and trains.

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