Just last month two of the EU’s large economies broke national records in the generation of clean energy. In July, the UK’s electricity grid had already racked up 1,000 hours sans coal burning in 2018, compared to 210 hours and 624 hours in 2016 and 2017, respectively. The country’s coal-fired electricity generation has shrunk a whopping 84 percent in the past five years, and the government is well on its way to meeting its pledge to end all coal use by 2025. Germany, a country who is much more coal dependent – especially after the closure of all its nuclear plants following the Fukushima disaster – set a new national record in July with renewables generating more electricity than coal for the first time ever.
These are two of several examples that are ever more frequent throughout the bloc. The decline in coal consumption will continue to become a common phenomenon across the EU, as the Union tightens its emissions-trading scheme and aims for a net-zero carbon economy.
SCIENCE CONFIRMS EUROPE’S ENVIRONMENT IS “RENEWABLE FRIENDLY”
While appropriate policies continue to be locked into place, peddling these changes along, research is also showing that Europe’s geography is ripe for clean energy usage, notwithstanding nature’s variables.
In a paper published last month by scientific journal Joule, European researchers conducted a long-term study using 30 years of meteorological data to model the impact of renewable energy on the electricity sector. As is well known, a major drawback of renewable energy sources are their intermittence, coupled with the unpredictability of the weather over the long term. However, “The work suggests that despite the unpredictable nature of wind and solar energy, the European power system can comfortably generate at least 35% of its electricity using these renewables alone without major impacts on prices or system stability”. Researchers attributed Europe’s ability to withstand varying weather conditions to its close integration. In fact, the report’s models estimate “Europe could use renewables for more than two-thirds of its electricity by 2030“, with wind and solar making up just over half of that generation.
This report is both relieving and reinvigorating for all EU Member States, who committed to binding renewable energy targets of 32 percent by 2030 at the European Commission, Parliament and Council’s ‘trialogue’ meeting in June.
BANDWAGONING ON CLEAN ENERGY: MORE COUNTRIES JOIN IN
Even those EU countries with still a large amount of ground to cover in renewable generation are moving towards increasing implementation of clean energy in an effort to meet the bloc’s targets. Malta, a Southern European island-nation who not long ago ranked in the lowest bracket of renewable energy generation vs. total energy consumed, is taking strides to contribute to Europe’s Paris Agreement commitments. Malta has implemented a feed-in-tariff mechanism to spur the implementation of rooftop solar panels, which has driven its overall renewable energy production up, from less than one percent in 2015, to over six percent in 2017. In the last five years, the average increase in the number of solar power installations on the island has climbed 328 percent.
An amendment was approved by the upper house of the Polish parliament in early August to push through additional funding for green energy. Producing more than 90 percent of its electricity from coal, the country is already in an uphill battle to meet numbers, especially given that many coal subsidies are still in place. Critics note that while increased legislative development for clean energy is a good sign, the EU would do well to cap the amount of coal subsidies allowed within European countries, lest renewables remain non-competitive within nations offering financial aid to fossil fuel producers.
CONNECTING CLEAN ENERGY AND CORPORATE REVENUE
The EU’s aggressive push towards a more fully enveloped renewables market is penetrating the business market as well. Bloomberg News Energy Finance published a report this week, demonstrating that global corporate procurement of clean energy has skyrocketed in 2018. As of July 2018, more than 7.2GW of renewable energy has been bought by corporations around the world, breaking last year’s record just seven months into the year. 1.6GW of the total was purchased within Europe — a steep jump from last year’s total of 1.1GW, and ranking second place to the United States.
When European negotiators met in June to hammer out the final details of the EU’s energy governance bill, the keynote speaker, Italian High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini pointed out, “for the second year in a row, climate impacts have displaced more people than war”. As the global economy continues to turn and react to changing stances on trade, territory, and titles, Europe’s actions demonstrate that the region has not lost sight of the forest between the trees: without a clean world to live in, all other issues are rendered null. As 2018 presses on, time will tell if the Union is able to maintain its seat at the helm of the world’s clean energy transformation.