Whilst the European Union is on its way meeting its 2020 renewables targets, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands are far from reaching theirs.
These renewable targets, also known as the ’20-20-20’ targets, have set the legally binding obligations of a 20% reduction in EU greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels, raising the EU share of energy consumption produced from renewable sources to 20% and a 20% improvement in the EU energy efficiency. Although the EU as a whole seems to be approaching its aim, the individual national targets seem to vary considerably. The latest data from Eurostat have revealed Sweden to be the most renewable-friendly EU member state, with over half of its energy coming from renewable sources. However, the Netherlands and the UK seem to be lagging behind on their legally binding obligations. The UK is 9.9 percentage points behind its national target of 15%, the Netherlands is 9.5 percentage points behind its goal of 14%.
Dr. Robert Koelemeijer, environment policy advisor at PBL, Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, explains that a large reason for the contrast between Sweden and the Netherlands is because Sweden has a more convenient baseline in regards to renewable energy. “Historically Sweden has a lot of biomass and hydropower. In terms of economics, hydropower is a very profitable technology to produce electricity, thus it doesn’t need government support or subsidies. Sweden was already near its target in 2005, whilst the Netherlands still had a long way to go.”
The reason behind the considerable backlog seems to be having less to do with natural resources and more to do with the governmental policies regarding renewables. “In the last couple of decades we have had a lot of changing policies regarding renewable energy. Right now there is a lot of uncertainty in the Netherlands regarding the net metering policy; another reason not to invest,“ says Joop van Vlerken, specialist editor of the energy expertise platform Energie+. The UK’s government seems to pose similar barriers in regards to renewable energy, as the UK’s backlog is said to be due to lack of confidence in the UK long-term commitment. Vince Adams, chairman of Transition Town Sturminster Newton and founder of the LetsGetEnergized website, responds.
Instead of having a government such as in Germany or Sweden who’ve been totally progressive and supportive and created a plan going forward, we’ve had a succession of governments that in my view have put hurdles and stops in the way of progress.”
In the Uk, the contracts for difference (CfD’s) scheme replaces the Renewables Obligations (RO) system. Whether the CfD scheme is generous enough to foster development in renewables is doubtful according to Pete West, Renewable Energy Development Officer at the Dorset County Council. “The problem with CFD is that it is competitive between different technologies at the same price. They don’t differentiate between longer-term benefits, they only look at the short-term price, what does it cost today?”
So what should these countries focus on in order to make the large progress that is needed to achieve the set targets? “Off shore wind would make a lot of sense,” Pete West replies. “The UK has got 40% of Europe’s wind and it would be cheaper than nuclear power, which the government is subsidizing strongly.” The Netherlands seems to have a similar focus according to Joop van Vlerken. “The focus is mainly on off shore wind. Solar power has a lot of potential too, when it can be used in multiple forms – solar film on houses, windows, rooftops, cars, and everything else really.”
The risk of not reaching the aims seems to be very daunting as there are fines of millions of pounds for every 1% too less. Sadly, according to a majority of the experts this scenario seems to be dangerously close. Dr. Koelemeijer responds “Achieving the aims of 2020 will be extremely difficult for the Netherlands. We are not going to make it by simply realizing national energy projects, so the only option we have left is buying the surplus of renewable energy of other EU countries and add that to the account of the Netherlands.”
However, not everyone seems to have accepted the probable outcome. Vince Adams remains positive when it comes to the UK reaching its 2020 targets. “I think that given the right government, we could do anything. You just need a national will and a national plan and politicians who begin to see the future in a rather different way to the old fossil fuel big company monopolies. Once they listen to the facts, everybody is going to want this; it is lower costs and its cleaner and we begin to do something about climate change.”