Conflict of Interest

A number of Member States are heavily reliant on fossil fuels and the political will is not there to progress to the renewable energy sector. Are the EU energy goals guiding Member States on diverging paths?

The European Union was originally set up as an energy union to uphold the peace within what would become  a union between Member States. However since peace was the main objective for the fledgling Member States in the wake of a devastating war energy innovation fell by the wayside. Member States have differing objectives, needs and goals over the lifespan of the EU and cherry picked which environmental  measures to support, often leading to mismanagement of funds and call into question the efficiency of money spent across Member States. This article will look at the history of energy development across the Member States and what efforts are being made into the future.

Since the oil crisis of the 1970s, governments have used subsidies to ensure adequate domestic supply. Subsidies have been provided to support indigenous fuel production in order to reduce import dependency coupling with the social benefits of retaining local employment in particular in the German and Spanish coal mines. Despite significant emissions of carbon dioxide and residual air pollutants emanating from the burning of fossil fuels, the amount of fossil fuel subsidies remains high, particularly for coal. However, according to the OECD, “In general, subsidies supporting fossil fuels — particularly coal and oil — represent greater threats to the environment than those that aid renewable energy sources. Those that support nuclear power contribute to unique environmental and safety issues, related mostly to the ‘risk’ of high-level environmental damage, rather than ongoing degradation” conflicting greatly with the EU energy goals.

The EU energy goals set out to secure Europe’s energy supplies. They ensure that energy prices do not make Europe less competitive, protect the environment and in particular combat climate change and improve energy grids. However one of the main sources of achieving this; energy subsidies has no agreed definition among Member States. The European Commission’s 2011 Energy Roadmap set out four main routes to a more sustainable, competitive and secure energy system in 2050: energy efficiency, renewable energy, nuclear energy and carbon capture and storage. Support for renewable energy, which is on balance considered environmentally beneficial, is increasing steadily through the introduction of regulatory support mechanisms under the 2050 roadmap. However with the exception of large hydro-electric power, renewable energy represents a much less mature industry with arguably greater need for technological and market support to enable full commercial development. It can be expected that subsidies for renewable industry will fall as costs decline and the technologies mature. Decarbonising the energy system is technically and economically feasible. In the long-run, all scenarios that achieve the emissions reduction target are cheaper than the continuation of current policies.

Increasing the share of renewable energy and using energy more efficiently are crucial irrespective of the particular energy mix chosen. Early infrastructure investments cost less and much of the infrastructure in the EU built 30 to 40 years ago needs to be replaced anyway. Immediately replacing it with low-carbon alternatives can avoid more costly changes in the future. According to the International Energy Agency, investments in the power sector made after 2020 would cost 4.3 times as much as those made before 2020. A European approach is expected to result in lower costs and more secure energy supplies when compared to individual national schemes. With a common energy market, energy can be produced where it is cheapest and delivered to where it is needed.



Let us know what you think. Where should the resources on the energy sector be devoted on?

Article by Kevin Boland
Infographic  by Pilar Casares