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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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Energy News

Policy Measures to Advance Jordan’s Transition to Renewables

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A new report published today by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) has identified a series of policy measures that can help advance the energy transition towards renewable energy in Jordan.

The “Renewables Readiness Assessment: The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan” – developed in co-operation with Jordan’s Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources, suggests opportunities exist to deepen private sector engagement in national efforts to reach a 31 per cent share of renewables in total power by 2030.

“The recommendations of this report comply with the newly issued Energy strategy 2020-2030 and its action plan,” said H.E. Engineer Hala Zawati, Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources in Jordan. “We are fully aware that to achieve all these ambitious targets, a strong partnership between the public and private sectors is needed. We are also eager to work with international friends and partners to make renewable energy a main pillar of the Jordan energy sector.”

The report presents policy action areas to increase energy security and boost supply diversity through the accelerated uptake of renewables and includes ideas to boost end-use electrification and increase the availability of energy transition investments from domestic institutions.

Jordan’s share of electricity from renewables grew from almost zero in 2014 to around 20 per cent in 2020 thanks to enabling frameworks and policies that have supported the deployment of renewable energy technologies, including solar photovoltaic (PV) and onshore wind.

“Jordan boasts significant renewable energy resource potential that if realised will reduce consumer energy costs, improve national energy security, create jobs and stimulate sustainable growth – boosting post COVID-19 economic recovery efforts,” said IRENA Director-General Francesco La Camera. “This report highlights a series of policy and regulatory measures that will allow Jordan to build on its energy transition progress to date and align it with 2030 national decarbonisation goals.”

Capacity building in local financing institutions and project developers can drive their engagement in the energy transition, the report says, while helping the country to meet its needs in important areas such as the build-out of electric charging infrastructure for the transport system.

Challenges associated with integrating higher shares of renewables in Jordan can be addressed by building and upgrading transmission and distribution infrastructure, deploying storage, promoting demand-side management and incentivising electrification of heating, cooling and transportation.

Renewables Readiness Assessment: Jordan lists concrete recommendations around the following seven action areas:

  • Provide the conditions for renewables to grow in the power sector
  • Foster continued growth of renewable power generation
  • Plan for the integration of higher shares of renewable power
  • Incentivise the use of renewables for heating and cooling
  • Support renewable options for transport and mobility
  • Catalyse renewable energy investment
  • Strengthen local industries and create jobs in renewables

Read the full report

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Energy News

World Bank Supports Angolan’s Electrification with $250 Million

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The World Bank approved $250 million to improve the operational performance of the electricity sector utilities and increase electricity access in selected cities of Angola.

The  Electricity Sector Improvement and Access Project will finance electrification investments in the provinces of Luanda, Benguela, Huila, and Huambo, delivering 196,500 new electricity connections that will benefit close to one million people and 93,857 public lights.

The project will focus on electricity access expansion and improvement of revenue collection, electricity service improvement, capacity improvement of the public electricity producer (PRODEL, Empresa Pública de Produção de Electricidade), and strengthening sustainable management of generation plants. The project also aims to increase the commercial performance of the national electricity distribution company (Empresa Nacional de Distribuição de Electricidade, ENDE) as well as provide financing to the national transport network Rede Nacional de Transporte, RNT) for targeted interventions to improve and optimize the dispatch of electricity supply and the overall management of the national transmission network. Furthermore, the Project will also finance immediate measures to raise the operational, commercial and technical capacity  of  the three national power utilities, leading to significant electricity service improvement.

“Investment in infrastructure, especially in energy, is key to  economic development ”, said Jean-Christophe Carret, World Bank Country Director to Angola “Quality access to electricity services will have a spillover effect in many other sectors, including agribusiness, health, education, just to name a few.”

Angola’s power generation capacity, largely based on hydropower, has developed at a fast pace with the national installed generation capacity quadrupling in just one decade, but transport, distribution and cost recovery remain very challenging. Less than 40 percent of Angolans have access to electricity, with inadequate electricity services impacting poverty, productivity and regional disparities. Therefore, the project aims to deliver the most critical actions needed to help expand electricity access, improve the operational and commercial performance of utilities, and ultimately boost their creditworthiness. This, in turn, will contribute to reducing extreme poverty, improving the resilience of communities to impacts arising from COVID-19, and increasing shared prosperity.

The total project cost is $417 million, financed with a $250 million loan from the World Bank and a credit of $167 million from Agence Française de Développement.

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IEA and SICA to collaborate on clean energy transitions in Central America

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The International Energy Agency (IEA) and the Central American Integration System (SICA) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to promote clean energy transitions in Central America. Under the MoU, the two organisations will expand their cooperation on energy data and statistics, energy efficiency and climate resilience of electricity systems. These have all been identified as key areas for energy transitions and climate change mitigation in the region under SICA’s Central American 2030 Sustainable Energy Strategy.

“The IEA is pleased to team up with SICA to expand our work in Central America, a dynamic region that is home to over 55 million people and has excellent clean energy potential with distinctive transition opportunities and challenges,” said IEA Deputy Executive Director David Turk. 

Under its Clean Energy Transitions Programme, the IEA has been expanding its collaboration in Latin America. This is taking place both bilaterally with key partner countries – including the two largest economies, Brazil and Mexico – and on a regional level through cooperation with leading regional organisations, including the Latin American Energy Organisation (OLADE) and the Inter-American Development Bank. The signing of the IEA-SICA Memorandum of Understanding is a new milestone for the IEA’s engagement with the region. 

“Today’s signing ceremony marks an important step for SICA’s work on clean energy transitions – an important priority for our member countries, which can now benefit from the IEA’s leading analysis and expertise,” said Vinicio Cerezo, SICA Secretary General.

The Central American Integration System (Sistema de Integración Centroamericana, or SICA) is an economic and political organisation composed of Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panamá and the Dominican Republic, that works to foster closer ties and integration across Central America and the Dominican Republic to promote peace, liberty, democracy and development in the region.

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