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An EU Strategy for Energy System Integration: Explainer

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What is energy system integration?

Energy system integration refers to the planning and operating of the energy system “as a whole”, across multiple energy carriers, infrastructures, and consumption sectors. It creates stronger links between them with the objective of delivering low-carbon, reliable and resource-efficient energy services, at the least possible cost for society. Energy system integration is the pathway towards an effective, affordable and deep decarbonisation of the European economy.

The current energy system is still built on parallel and vertical energy value chains, which rigidly link specific energy resources with specific end-use sectors. This model of separate silos cannot deliver a climate neutral economy. It is technically and economically inefficient, and leads to substantial losses in the form of waste heat and low energy efficiency.

The Energy System Integration Strategy sets out a vision on how to accelerate the transition towards a more integrated energy system, in support of clean energy and a climate neutral economy while strengthening energy security, protecting health and the environment, and promoting growth and global industrial leadership.

The Strategy sets out 38 actions to implement the necessary reforms. These include the revision of existing energy legislation, financial support or research and deployment of new technologies and digital tools, guidance to Member States on fiscal measures and phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies, market governance reform and holistic infrastructure planning, and improved information to consumers.

What are the main elements of the strategy?

The strategy is built on three complementary and mutually reinforcing elements:

  • First, a more circular energy system, where no energy is wasted and where energy efficiency is the first consideration. An example is to facilitate the reuse of waste heat from industrial sites and data centres.
  • Secondly, the use of cleaner electricity produced from renewable sources. As renewables become cheaper, electricity will become cleaner. We need to extend the use of that clean electricity into more areas such as buildings, industry, and transport, which traditionally relied on fossil fuels.
  • Thirdly, the promotion of renewable and low-carbon fuels, including hydrogen, for sectors that are hard to decarbonise, such as heavy transport and industry. This will be done by: unlocking the potential of sustainable biomass and biofuels, renewable hydrogen, and synthetic fuels; enabling carbon capture, storage and use; clarifying the definition of different renewable and low-carbon fuels and supporting their development; and promoting innovative projects.

Finally, the strategy will be pro-consumer, providing clear and easily accessible information on the cleanest solutions and climate-friendly choices in the market, enabling and encouraging smarter and more sustainable energy use. It will rely on an increased use of digitalisation to connect consumers, producers and energy system operators with each other. This will also contribute to the fight against energy poverty.

The strategy lays down concrete policy proposals that the Commission will present over the coming months and years to deliver on these objectives.

Does this strategy help to reach the goals of the European Green Deal?

Yes. Energy production and consumption account for 75% of our greenhouse gas emissions. The energy system is therefore crucial to delivering on the European Green Deal’s objective of reaching climate neutrality by 2050. The energy system also underpins our economy and our daily lives. It provides jobs and livelihoods and strengthens European competitiveness and innovation.

Energy sector integration enables to combine decarbonised and renewable energy supply with efficient demand side technologies such as electric motors, heat pumps and fuel cells. Deep greenhouse gas emission reductions can only be reached through a combination of energy efficiency and very high shares of renewable energy. And both energy efficiency and renewables penetration can be facilitated by a more integrated energy system.

A new inter-connected system will be more efficient and “circular”, capturing and re-using waste energy. It will be cleaner, with increased use of heat and electricity produced from renewable sources applied in efficient demand side applications in industry, transport and heating. And for those sectors where electrification is difficult, the strategy proposes steps to promote cleaner fuels, including sustainable biofuels and biogas, and renewable hydrogen.

All this will contribute to combatting climate change and reach the goals of the European Green Deal while keeping the costs of the energy transition under control, thus contributing to a fair and just transition.

Will the strategy help Europe’s economic recovery from the Covid-19 crisis?

Yes. The strategy will be another building block of the economic recovery in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis. The transition to a more integrated energy system is of crucial importance for Europe, now more than ever. The Commission’s Next Generation EU recovery plan presented on 27 May 2020 highlights the need to better integrate the energy system, as part of its efforts to unlock investment in key clean technologies and value chains. By relying on greater use of clean and innovative processes and tools, the path towards system integration will also trigger new investments, jobs and growth, and strengthen EU industrial leadership at a global level, contributing to the economic recovery.

Does the strategy continue to support fossil fuels such as gas and coal?

On the contrary, the strategy is a roadmap to accelerate the phasing out of fossil fuels through 3 levels:

  • Energy efficiency and circularity, and the use of local renewable resources;
  • Electrification wherever possible, to replace the uses of gas, coal and oil by the direct use of electricity produced from renewables;
  • Renewables and new fuels based on renewables to replace fossil fuels in processes that cannot be converted to electricity;

As regards to gas, the strategy proposes a pathway to replace natural gas with sustainable renewable gas and new synthetic gases based on renewable sources such as hydrogen and synthetic methane.

Does the strategy contribute to the goal of a just transition?

The objective of the strategy is to reach our climate objectives at the lowest possible cost for consumers and public budgets. The strategy also proposes to reinforce the role of consumers in driving the transition to a decarbonised, decentralised energy system. Providing clear and easily accessible information will enable citizens to make climate-friendly choices, change energy consumption patterns and be informed about the best technology options available to them.

The strategy also takes advantage of the rapidly decreasing costs of renewable energy across the EU, which results in lower prices for the consumers, increased energy security, and a more inclusive energy system. In addition, this strategy aims at strengthening the competitiveness of the European economy by promoting growth and technological innovation across the whole EU.

Does the strategy respect the ‘energy-efficiency-first’ principle?

Yes. The energy-efficiency-first principle is at the core of energy system integration. Energy efficiency reduces the overall investment needs and costs associated with energy production, infrastructure and use. It also reduces the related land and materials use, and the associated pollution and biodiversity losses.

Energy system integration can help the EU achieve greater energy efficiency through a more circular use of available resources and by switching to more efficient energy technologies. For example, electric vehicles are much more energy efficient than combustion engines. Applying this energy-efficiency-first principle consistently across the whole energy system will be done by giving priority to demand-side solutions whenever they are more cost effective than investments in energy supply infrastructure in meeting policy objectives.

Other measures will ensure that customers’ decisions to save, switch or share energy properly reflect the life cycle energy use and footprint of the different energy carriers, including extraction, production and reuse or recycling of raw materials, conversion, transformation, transportation and storage of energy, and the growing share of renewables in electricity supply.

How does the strategy support EU leadership in clean energy technology?

The strategy aims to ensure that the EU fully exploits its head-start and expertise in renewable and smart energy technologies. Specific sectors and value chains that are expected to have a central importance and where the EU is well positioned for global leadership include:

  • district heating
  • smart grids and appliances
  • digital tools to support the integration of electric vehicles
  • hydrogen supply and demand side equipment.

How does the strategy affect the EU’s security of energy supply?

The EU is currently importing 58% of its energy needs, mostly in the form of oil and gas. With the clean energy transition, the EU will decrease its dependence on fossil fuels and fossil fuel imports. The Energy system integration strategy will facilitate this process. The EU will consume less energy overall, increasingly rely on domestic renewable resources and gradually diversify its energy imports towards cleaner energy carriers, such as renewable hydrogen. These energy savings, diversification and domestic production will help to build a more resilient European economy.

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Solutions to accelerate renewables integration and power system resilience

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Singapore and the International Energy Agency today co-hosted the second Global Ministerial Conference on System Integration of Renewables (SIR). The Conference was held as part of the Singapore International Energy Week (SIEW) 2020.

This is the first SIR Ministerial Conference to be held in Asia. Under the theme “Investment, Integration, and Resilience: A Secure, Clean Energy Future,” the SIR Ministerial Conference brought together close to 30 Energy Ministers, global CEOs and thought leaders to discuss emerging issues in the acceleration of renewables integration and power system resilience with a strong focus on Asia and Southeast Asia. The IEA also launched its new report on electricity security, Power Systems in Transition, at the Conference. The report provides important recommendations on modernising power grids for greater reliability and flexibility.

Singapore’s Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister for Trade & Industry, and Manpower and co-Chair of the SIR Ministerial Dr Tan See Leng said: “International cooperation and public-private partnerships remain vital as we navigate towards a more sustainable energy future. As we address the urgent need to future-proof our systems to create more resilience and flexibility, we must also increase the share of, and enhance the integration of renewable energy in our energy systems. We look forward to working with the IEA to advance global energy transitions.”

“The IEA is pleased to partner with Singapore for the 2nd Ministerial Conference on System Integration of Renewables as the country sits at the heart of Asia, a region that will be critical in shaping the future of global energy markets,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA Executive Director. “Today, we shared important lessons from across Asia and beyond on how best to integrate growing shares of wind and solar into power systems while maintaining security of supply. This will be crucial if renewables are to become the fundamental cornerstone of global clean energy transitions.”

Singapore’s cooperation with the IEA has deepened significantly since it became an Association country of the IEA in 2016. Singapore and the IEA have co-hosted many innovative initiatives and programmes to advance the global energy agenda. These include the training programmes under the Singapore-Regional Training Hub, the Singapore-IEA Forum and the Capacity Building Roadmap on Energy Investment and Financing for ASEAN.

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Impact of COVID-19 on Commodity Markets Heaviest on Energy Prices

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While metal and agricultural commodities have recouped their losses from the COVID-19 pandemic and are expected to make modest gains in 2021, energy prices, despite some recovery, are expected to stabilize below pre-pandemic levels next year, the World Bank said.

Oil prices fell dramatically in the early stages of COVID-19 and have only partially regained pre-pandemic price levels, while metal prices declined relatively modestly and have returned to levels that preceded the shock, according to the semi-annual Commodity Markets Outlook report. Agriculture prices were relatively unaffected by the pandemic, but the number of people at risk of food insecurity has risen as a result of the broader effects of the global recession.

“The impact of COVID-19 on commodities has been uneven, and could have lasting effects for energy markets,” said Ayhan Kose, World Bank Group Acting Vice President for Equitable Growth, Finance & Institutions and Director for the Prospects Group. “When declines in commodity prices are short-lived, policy stimulus can buffer their impact. However, when prices remain depressed for an extended period, policy makers need to find solutions so their economies can adjust smoothly to a new normal. Because of COVID-19, the new normal for oil-exporting emerging and developing economies arrived earlier. In the post-COVID world, these countries need to be more aggressive in implementing policies to reduce their reliance on oil revenues.”

Oil prices are expected to average $44 per barrel in 2021, up from an estimated $41 per barrel in 2020. Demand is expected to rise only slowly as tourism and travel continue to be held back by health concerns and as global economic activity is anticipated to return to pre-pandemic levels only in the year after next. Supply restraint is expected to be eased steadily.  Energy prices overall —which also include natural gas and coal—are expected to rebound sizably in 2021, following large declines in 2020, an upward revision from April’s forecast. A resurgence of a second wave of the pandemic that results in more lockdowns and less consumption, and delays in vaccine development and distribution, could lead to lower energy prices than forecast.

Metal prices are expected to post modest increases in 2021 after falling in 2020, supported by the ongoing recovery in the global economy and continued stimulus from China. A prolonged period of weak global growth would lead to lower prices than forecast.

Agriculture prices are expected to rise slightly in 2021, following an estimated 3% increase in 2020 following some shortfall in edible oil production. Concerns about food insecurity remain relevant in several emerging market and developing economies. These concerns are prompted by hits to incomes from the global recession, bottlenecks in food availability at the local level, and border restrictions that have constrained labor supply. Food price inflation has spiked in several countries.

The pandemic is only the latest in a long history of shocks to commodity markets. A Special Focus looks at the nature of commodity price shocks on 27 commodities during 1970-2019. It finds that highly persistent (“permanent”) and short-lived (“transitory”) shocks have contributed almost equally to commodity price variation, although with wide variety across commodities. Permanent shocks account for most of agricultural commodity price variability while transitory shocks are more relevant in industrial commodity prices. The varied duration of such shocks points to a need for policy flexibility.

 A transitory commodity price shock may call for stimulative fiscal policy to smooth consumption; countries that depend on exports of commodities subject to cyclical price swings may want to build fiscal buffers during the boom phase and use them in the bust period to support economic activity. In countries that rely heavily on commodities that are subject to permanent shocks, structural policies such as economic diversification and broadening the tax base may be needed to facilitate adjustments to new economic environments.

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Countries Raise the Sails on Offshore Renewables Sector

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Offshore renewables, including offshore wind, wave, tidal, ocean thermal, and floating solar PV, will witness substantial growth in capacity over the next decade and play an essential role in the global energy transformation. In this context, representatives from 40 countries gathered to identify collaboration areas and agree on concrete actions to accelerate progress and ensure rapid uptake of these promising technologies.

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency’s (IRENA) projections, global offshore wind and ocean energy installed capacity will reach 228 GW and 10 GW respectively by 2030.

During his welcoming remarks, IRENA Director-General Francesco La Camera stressed offshore renewables’ importance in meeting growing energy demands and improving living conditions. “Offshore renewables have the potential to meet more than four times the global energy demand of today, foster a blue economy, and bring socio-economic benefits to some of the most vulnerable areas to climate change such as small island territories and coastal areas,” he said.

The Collaborative Framework on Ocean Energy/Offshore Renewables first met on 25 June 2020, during which Members and States in Accession provided inputs on the thematic scope of the Collaborative Framework and agreed to include relevant stakeholders in future meetings. In response, this second meeting of the Collaborative Framework, moderated by H.E Ambassador ‘Akau’ola, Tonga’s Permanent Representative to IRENA, included participation, insights, and support from the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) and Ocean Energy Europe (OEE).

Currently, 90% of global installed offshore wind capacity is commissioned and operated in the North Sea and the nearby Atlantic Ocean. Mr. Ben Backwell, CEO of GWEC, attributed the rapid uptake of offshore wind in Europe to regional cooperation on interconnection, marine spatial planning (MSP), and sector coupling in the North Sea. Mr. Backwell highlighted the critical role that the Collaborative Framework can play in fostering similar regional partnerships in other parts of the world.

Representing the ocean energy sector in the Collaborative Framework, Mr. Rémi Gruet, CEO of OEE, suggested that ocean energy will become a game-changer, estimating that the sector can provide more than 1.2 million jobs worldwide by 2050. Mr. Gruet also underscored the predictability of ocean energy, which complements the variable renewable energy sources, as a compelling reason to make wave and tidal energy technologies essential additions to power systems that will be dominated by solar PV and wind.

Members also agreed on 13 topics of focus for the Collaborative Framework, around the areas of technology development, research and innovation, market incentives, and sustainability. The topics include analyses on accelerating technology cost reduction, grid integration, resource mapping, and coupling of offshore renewables with Power-to-X technologies. Participants also indicated the important role of IRENA and the Collaborative Framework in moving a global Offshore Renewables agenda forward in other relevant multilateral venues including the G20 and the COP26.

IRENA Members also agreed on modalities for future meetings under the Collaborative Framework, including the selection of Italy and Tonga as co-facilitators.

IRENA

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