Energy crisis and ecological emergency: is the REPowerEU plan THE solution?
Author: Mathilde Angeledei
Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine on the 24 of February 2022, the European Union faced a lack of gas distribution from Russia due to its support to Ukraine in the conflict. In reaction, the European Commission presented on March 8 the idea of coming up with a new project which aims at phasing out Russian fossil fuels and becoming more autonomous and independent regarding its energy supply and security. The plan was well received by EU leaders, who signed the Versailles declaration. They all agreed on the necessity to make the EU independent from Russian energy imports as soon as possible. On May 18, the Commission presented the REPowerEU plan and a week after the EU Energy Platform Task Force was established to secure alternative supplies.
The REPowerEU plan sets out a series of measures to rapidly reduce dependence on Russian energies by developing new energy cooperation agreements while investing in its own green transition.
The REPowerEU plan moves around three main areas:
Energy savings & reduction
Firstly, rather than waiting for an alternative solution to Russian energy, the EU prefers to count on energy savings from its own citizens and companies. Saving energy is the cheapest, safest and cleanest way to start the REPowerEU plan. The Commission wrote five simple daily life guidelines for EU citizens to follow:
- reducing heating temperatures or using less air-conditioning;
- using household appliances more efficiently;
- driving more economically;
- shifting to more public transport and active mobility;
- switching off the lights.
This is in line with the Commission’s objective to save around 13 bcm (billion cubic meters) of gas import by relying only on citizens’ and businesses’ responsible behavior.
In the long term, the Commission wants to boost industrial decarbonisation with €3 billion of frontloaded projects under the Innovation Fund and increase its ambition on energy savings by raising the EU-wide target on efficiency for 2030 from 9% to 13%.
On top of that, the EU demands a reduction emergency plan in case of gas supply disruption.
Alternative Energy Supplies
Secondly, the EU is working with international partners such as Israel and Egypt to find alternative energy supplies.
In the short term, the EU needs alternative supplies of gas, oil and coal and it is exploring the future of renewable hydrogen too.
In the long term, the EU will invest in an integrated and adapted gas and electricity infrastructure network. Moreover, the EU is currently writing a proposal to ensure the industry has access to critical raw materials.
Thirdly, for the quantities the Member States still need to consume, the goal is to replace it with renewable energies. Many short and long-term measures have been proposed by the Commission.
Concerning short-term measures, the EU wants to increase the production of biomethane to save 17 bcm of gas imports and intensify solar and wind energy projects to save around 50 bcm of gas imports
Concerning long-term measures, the EU wants to modernize and simplify the legislation on renewable energy such as wind turbines and solar panels to enable a rapid issuance of building permits at low environmental risk. One of the most ambitious projects of the EU is to build a 17.5 GW hydrogen accelerator of electrolysers by 2025 to fuel the EU industry with homegrown production of 10 million tonnes of renewable hydrogen.
Why is the REPowerEU plan problematic?
If exiting from the Russian fossil fuels, gas and coal import is a necessity, should it be then done at all costs? This ambitious REPower EU plan will challenge the EU more than any other plan before. Indeed, this plan should combine a rapid transition to decarbonised energy with the building of strong partnerships between democratic countries while keeping energy affordable and secure for all citizens.
Switching off the light is common sense
The first objective of the project is saving energy, however, it seems clear that asking citizens to reduce energy is a tough job. Electric devices, especially cars and home technologies have increased this last decade, intensifying the need for energy. The solutions offered by the EU have already been implemented in people’s minds for years. Switching off the light when leaving a room is common sense, the same as using less air-conditioning. In the short term period, the EU needs to focus on industries and administration offices to save energy because they are the first consumers of energy and are most able to establish plans to reduce their energy consumption.
Renewable energy overlooked concerns
For many countries, it is still difficult to envisage such a quick transition at a time when energy prices are causing public anger. An abrupt halt to Russian imports combined with a forced installation of renewable energy facilities will make the working classes, already hard hit by the energy crisis, even more insecure.
The main objective of the EU is to become independent by investing in renewable energy. However, the creation of an energy park based solely on renewable energies requires several years of discussion and implementation. It will also require strong cooperation between the 27 states and huge financial investments.
In an amendment voted on June 27, the Energy minister of Member States backtracked on the development of renewable energies. The amendment removes the Commission’s push to increase the target for renewables in Europe’s energy mix to 45%, replacing it with the 40% target. This is below both the European Parliament’s and the European Commission’s positions, which both support the 45% target. The amendment also deleted the legal concept of “overriding public interest” for renewable energies. If adopted, the principle would help protect new renewable projects against legal challenges. Although unanimously welcomed, the REPower EU plan seems in fact creating dissension among the 27.
Another hurdle concerns renewable energy in the EU. When talking about renewable energy, the issue of rare metals is often overlooked. Europe is not a producer of these precious metals. A rapid and brutal change in its energy policy risks putting it once again at the mercy of the countries producing these rare metals, such as China.
Moreover, the environmental impact of the extraction of these rare metals is an issue. Often criticized, their extraction is a source of significant pollution for the ecosystems.
Concerning the objective of diversifying imports of energy, the EU concluded new agreements with Egypt, regarding the import of hydrogen; and with Azerbaijan, regarding the import of fossil fuels and gas. If these agreements allow the EU to diversify our sources of energy, they are, however, rooted in cooperation with countries that are often criticized for their respect of human rights. For more than two years, the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Upper Karaba has already caused several thousand deaths. If the EU wants to put an end to Russian energy imports for ethical reasons, it should not be at the expense of other populations.
In conclusion, the REPower EU Plan, born from a very laudable desire to move away from a harmful dependence on Russian energy, does not seem to take the necessary time to prepare a prosperous transition for all.
More than ever, European citizens must be aware of their energy impact and do their best to control and reduce it. Last but not least, governments should develop energy efficiency laws for businesses to initiate a general awareness movement to promote more efficient energy consumption.