European Commission chief emphasises North Sea offshore wind plan

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The vice president of the European Commission, Maros Sefcovic, has for the second time in a week reiterated Brussels determination to bring about an integrated North Sea offshore grid, and believes the impetus for the initiative will be furthered early in 2016.

In his keynote address to the European Wind Energy Association conference in Paris on Tuesday, Sefcovic said, “The share of wind power in the overall mix makes it the fastest growing renewable energy, and there is plenty of evidence as to the tremendous potential in the North Sea for a significant Baltic clean energy contribution to the overall EU grid. It’s a cross-border cooperation that can prove extremely mutually beneficial for all ten member states involved.”

Last week at an energy forum in Copenhagen, Sefcovic had asserted a belief in the impact of a North Sea energy system, saying ‘the time has now come’ to finally make concrete proposals.

At a press call at the EWEA conference, Sefcovic told reporters that there is a growing appetite for the project among the nations concerned.

“More and more political support is evident in having this project developed, although it is technically challenging. The technicals need to be resolved and we need to develop a clear action plan where intervention might be needed. Financing issues remain but the Commission will finance feasibility studies, and if project proves commercially viable it will ensure lots of investment from the likes of the European Investment Bank. This project will be implemented during Dutch presidency of the European Union in the spring of next year, and I welcome their plans to prioritise it.”

The Commission chief acknowledged the complexity associated with making the system coherent due to the different standards and types of legislation involved in different countries. He called for regularity at the political level along with a common approach to get the project off the ground in order to facilitate what could be a very important clean energy contribution for the EU bloc.

The Commission, he said, plans to redesign the electricity market and reform the Emissions Trading Scheme to ensure a reliable landscape for investment as well as see that the new renewable energy target of at least 27 per cent of final energy consumption in the EU as a whole by 2030 is achieved.

“Private investment will not come if we, the policy makers, don’t set a stable climate regulatory framework. To see if the numbers are adding up and (member states are collectively) achieving the target or if we have a problem, if all states are doing their fair share or if there are free riders – we may need to come up with additional regulatory measures on assessing the levels of ambitions.”

Sefcovic called the targets presented by the latest EWEA report ‘ambitious but worthy of study.’

He said the proposal to enable wind energy to remove 111 million tonnes of CO2 emissions was important ‘so we don’t have to tell the next generation that it is up to them to sort out the mess- it’s about intergenerational solidarity to take action now to preserve the planet for our children.”

"Europe did not become the most climate-conscious and ambitious continent by fearing challenges. We are here to tackle them".

Germany’s state minister for energy Rainier Bakke said his country was trying to show that an industrialised country could flourish and have a stable economy while ultimately being backboned by renewable energy.

At the beginnings of the German renewable energy project in 2015, the government wasn’t to know what technologies would succeed and what would fail, according to Bakke, but despite some expensive mistakes, he was heartened that inside one and a half decades the cost level for solar and wind was now on a par with coal and gas power in Germany.

“Whether renewables will be successful is no longer a question of technology, nor a question of costs as we have now the same cost level as fossil generation – it’s about being able to create a power system to incorporate the growing number of wind and solar generators- we want the energy transition to be an ecological and economic success story or else no one will follow us on this path.”

“We have to make renewables ready for the power market and the power market ready for that growing number of renewables.”

Earlier French energy and ecology minister Segolene Royale paid tribute to the event’s organisers in going ahead despite the tragedies in the city the previous Friday, before delivering an impassioned plea to the industry to play its part in reducing the threat from global warming as the city tends to final preparations for the planet’s most important intergovernmental climate event..

“France is committed irreversibly to this energy transition and is relying on your help to provide concrete efficient engineering support to enable areas of opportunity for you to foster your renewable energies – we need to develop the industrial base to export to the rest of the world, our scientific financial and industrial competencies.

“COP21 is not an end, it’s a beginning –it must appeal to the poorest countries, especially where hydrocarbons are cheaper than solar or wind energy. I look at the case of southern Namibia which has huge potential for wind energy – but no development of wind energy in that country. “

Wind energy could boost the EU economy by €13bn ($13.9bn) over the next 15 years and support 366,000 jobs, according to the EWEA report released to accompany the start of the event.

The report, ‘Aiming High’, said that wind power can exceed gas, coal and other forms of energy by the end of the next decade if European member states follow the ambitious end of the policy framework they have set for 2030.

It said total wind installations in Europe could reach 392 GW with 294 GW of onshore and 98 GW of offshore wind. 

Today, Europe’s 128.8GW can meet 10 per cent of European power consumption in a normal wind year.

The report outlines a number of policy priorities that need to be addressed. They include: the development of national renewable energy action plans for member states; streamlining national permitting procedures; proposing legislation for well-functioning energy markets and driving reform of the region’s emissions trading scheme.

EWEA chief executive officer Giles Dickson said: “Wind power can be the foundation of the European energy system within the next 15 years.

“But policymakers must demonstrate more determination than is on show today. Wind power can deliver economic growth in Europe by boosting investments, creating jobs and reducing electricity bills.”

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