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Commission sets out plans for the energy system of the future and clean hydrogen

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To become climate-neutral by 2050, Europe needs to transform its energy system, which accounts for 75% of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions.  The EU strategies for energy system integration and hydrogen, adopted today, will pave the way towards a more efficient and interconnected energy sector, driven by the twin goals of a cleaner planet and a stronger economy.

The two strategies present a new clean energy investment agenda, in line with the Commission’s Next Generation EU recovery package and the European Green Deal. The planned investments have the potential to stimulate the economic recovery from the coronavirus crisis. They create European jobs and boost our leadership and competitiveness in strategic industries, which are crucial to Europe’s resilience.

Energy System Integration

The EU Strategy for Energy System Integration will provide the framework for the green energy transition. The current model where energy consumption in transport, industry, gas and buildings is happening in ‘silos’ – each with separate value chains, rules, infrastructure, planning and operations – cannot deliver climate neutrality by 2050 in a cost efficient way; the changing costs of innovative solutions have to be integrated in the way we operate our energy system. New links between sectors must be created and technological progress exploited.

Energy system integration means that the system is planned and operated as a whole, linking different energy carriers, infrastructures, and consumption sectors. This connected and flexible system will be more efficient, and reduce costs for society. For example, this means a system where the electricity that fuels Europe’s cars could come from the solar panels on our roofs, while our buildings are kept warm with heat from a nearby factory, and the factory is fuelled by clean hydrogen produced from off-shore wind energy.

There are three main pillars to this strategy:

  • First, a more ‘circular’ energy system, with energy efficiency at its core. The strategy will identify concrete actions to apply the ‘energy efficiency first’ principle in practice and to use local energy sources more effectively in our buildings or communities. There is significant potential in the reuse of waste heat from industrial sites, data centres, or other sources, and energy produced from bio-waste or in wastewater treatment plants. The Renovation Wave will be an important part of these reforms.
  • Second, a greater direct electrification of end-use sectors. As the power sector has the highest share of renewables, we should increasingly use electricity where possible: for example for heat pumps in buildings, electric vehicles in transport or electric furnaces in certain industries. A network of one million electric vehicle charging points will be among the visible results, along with the expansion of solar and wind power.
  • For those sectors where electrification is difficult, the strategy promotes clean fuels, including renewable hydrogen and sustainable biofuels and biogas. The Commission will propose a new classification and certification system for renewable and low-carbon fuels.

The strategy sets out 38 actions to create a more integrated energy system. These include the revision of existing legislation, financial support, 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 infrastructure planning, and improved information to consumers. The analysis of the existing barriers in these areas will inform our concrete proposals, for instance the revision of the TEN-E regulation by the end of 2020 or the revision of the energy taxation directive and the gas market regulatory framework in 2021.

Hydrogen strategy

In an integrated energy system, hydrogen can support the decarbonisation of industry, transport, power generation and buildings across Europe. The EU Hydrogen Strategy addresses how to transform this potential into reality, through investments, regulation, market creation and research and innovation.

Hydrogen can power sectors that are not suitable for electrification and provide storage to balance variable renewable energy flows, but this can only be achieved with coordinated action between the public and private sector, at EU level. The priority is to develop renewable hydrogen, produced using mainly wind and solar energy. However, in the short and medium term other forms of low-carbon hydrogen are needed to rapidly reduce emissions and support the development of a viable market.

This gradual transition will require a phased approach:

  • From 2020 to 2024, we will support the installation of at least 6 gigawatts of renewable hydrogen electrolysers in the EU, and the production of up to one million tonnes of renewable hydrogen.
  • From 2025 to 2030, hydrogen needs to become an intrinsic part of our integrated energy system, with at least 40 gigawatts of renewable hydrogen electrolysers and the production of up to ten million tonnes of renewable hydrogen in the EU.
  • From 2030 to 2050, renewable hydrogen technologies should reach maturity and be deployed at large scale across all hard-to-decarbonise sectors.

To help deliver on this Strategy, the Commission is launching today the European Clean Hydrogen Alliance with industry leaders, civil society, national and regional ministers and the European Investment Bank. The Alliance will build up an investment pipeline for scaled-up production and will support demand for clean hydrogen in the EU.

To target support at the cleanest available technologies, the Commission will work to introduce common standards, terminology and certification, based on life-cycle carbon emissions, anchored in existing climate and energy legislation, and in line with the EU taxonomy for sustainable investments. The Commission will propose policy and regulatory measures to create investor certainty, facilitate the uptake of hydrogen, promote the necessary infrastructure and logistical networks, adapt infrastructure planning tools, and support investments, in particular through the Next Generation EU recovery plan.

Quotes from members of the College of Commissioners

Executive Vice-President for the Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, said: “The strategies adopted today will bolster the European Green Deal and the green recovery, and put us firmly on the path of decarbonising our economy by 2050. The new hydrogen economy can be a growth engine to help overcome the economic damage caused by COVID-19. In developing and deploying a clean hydrogen value chain, Europe will become a global frontrunner and retain its leadership in clean tech.”  

Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson, said: “With 75% of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions coming from energy, we need a paradigm shift to reach our 2030 and 2050 targets. The EU’s energy system has to become better integrated, more flexible and able to accommodate the cleanest and most cost-effective solutions. Hydrogen will play a key role in this, as falling renewable energy prices and continuous innovation make it a viable solution for a climate-neutral economy.”

Commissioner for Internal Market, Thierry Breton, said: “The European Clean Hydrogen Alliance launched today will channel investments into hydrogen production. It will develop a pipeline of concrete projects to support the decarbonisation efforts of European energy intensive industries such as steel and chemicals. The Alliance is strategically important for our Green Deal ambitions and the resilience of our industry.” 

Background

The European Green Deal is the new growth strategy of the EU, a roadmap to make our economy sustainable by turning climate and environmental challenges into opportunities across all policy areas and making the transition just and inclusive for all. A better-integrated energy system is essential in order to move to climate neutrality by 2050, while also creating jobs, ensuring a fair transition and strengthening innovation in the EU and industrial leadership at a global level. The sector can make a key contribution to Europe’s economic recovery from the coronavirus crisis, as outlined in the Next Generation EU recovery package presented by the Commission on 27 May 2020.

Today’s energy system is still built on several parallel, vertical energy value chains, which rigidly link specific energy resources with specific end-use sectors, wasting a significant amount of energy. For instance, petroleum products are predominant in the transport sector and as feedstock for industry. Coal and natural gas are mainly used to produce electricity and heating. Electricity and gas networks are planned and managed independently from each other. Market rules are also largely specific to different 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.

One way to deliver sector integration is by deploying renewable hydrogen. It can be used as a feedstock, a fuel or an energy carrier and storage, and has many possible applications across industry, transport, power and buildings sectors. Most importantly, it emits no CO2 and almost no air pollution when used. It therefore offers a solution to decarbonise industrial processes and economic sectors where reducing carbon emissions is both urgent and hard to achieve. All this makes hydrogen essential to support the EU’s commitment to reach carbon neutrality by 2050 and for the global effort to implement the Paris Agreement.

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As fuel prices rise, companies look to energy efficient solutions

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With fossil fuel prices reaching record highs, companies around the world are focusing on energy efficiency to save money and reduce the emissions driving the climate crisis.

Research shows that a safe future below 1.5°C requires the world to cut 30 gigatonnes greenhouse gas emissions (CO2) annually by 2030. Carbon emissions need to be cut by building smart cities and managing land and resources more efficiently.  Transport and buildings are among the largest contributors.

– a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)-led global effort supporting developing countries to move their markets to energy-efficient appliances and equipment.

“This improvement in energy efficiency will also reduce electricity bills for companies and support the scale-up of renewable energy,” he added.

Improving energy efficiency

Energy efficiency can take many forms, with U4E focusing on lighting, refrigeration, air conditioning, distribution transformers and electric motors. 

LED lamps, for example, are not only more efficient than conventional lamps, but they also last 20 times longer. Research shows that by switching to LED lighting in 156 developing countries, over 110 terawatt-hours (TWh) could be saved by 2030, nearly the same as the current electricity consumption of the Netherlands.

Similarly, by increasing efficiency in distribution transformers, which adjust voltage and current and are placed between the power plant and the consumer, 60 TWh could be saved by 2040, or the same as the current consumption of the Czech Republic.

“Half of the near-term reductions in emissions in the energy sector can be achieved through energy efficiency, for example, by using more energy-efficient appliances and lighting and more efficient motors,” said Miriam Hinostroza, Head of the Global Climate Action Unit, at UNEP’s Energy and Climate Branch.

Cost effective solutions

Companies have found that energy efficiency is a double win, it’s good for their bottom line but it’s also good for the environment. Hitachi Energy, a global technology leader that is advancing a sustainable energy future for all, has been working with U4E to improve the efficiency of distribution transformers in developing regions like Africa.

These transformers are a key product in the power value chain, with electricity typically passing through five of them between the power plant and the consumer.

U4E research shows that a transition across the African continent to the most energy-efficient transformers could save 5.7 TWh a year, worth around US$ 400m by 2040.

This transition would also reduce CO2 emissions by 4.7 million tonnes a year. The transformers also have the added benefit of being more stable, reducing outages and increasing energy security.

“Transformers are critical for enabling an efficient and safe flow of electricity, operating continuously around the clock,” said Bruno Melles, Head of the Transformer Business at Hitachi Energy.

“Energy efficiency brings energy savings and reduces environmental impact, but also means more efficient use of existing infrastructure, which is in line with Hitachi Energy’s Sustainability 2030 strategic plan, which includes the target to achieve carbon-neutrality in our own operations.”

“In developing countries, energy efficiency also contributes to increasing the availability and access to electrical energy, contributing to key UN Sustainable Development Goals,” added Melles.

It is not just in Africa where U4E is helping to drive change. In Türkiye, U4E has been working in the industrial sector to help improve efficiency in motor-drive systems. Around 46 per cent of net electricity consumption in Türkiye comes from the industrial sector, and about 70 per cent of this comes from electric motor-drive systems, many of which are inefficient.

UNEP, through U4E, has been providing technical assistance to the Promoting Energy-Efficient Motors in Small and Medium Sized Enterprises in Türkiye (TEVMOT) project.

“The TEVMOT project was conceived to tap into this huge potential for energy savings through the transition to higher efficiency motors and to tackle the challenge of achieving these savings in an industrial sector,” said Özge Renklidağ, a Project Manager with UNDP.

“More than 90 per cent of the enterprises are small and medium-size enterprises, which have traditionally had difficulties in obtaining access to finance for energy-efficient products.”

The project, which started in 2017, and has been extended until the end of 2023, will contribute to Türkiye’s intended Nationally Determined Contribution commitment to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 21 per cent from the business-as-usual level by 2030.

“Through projects such as these, increased energy efficiency has been shown to offer real contributions in reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” said Blake, “U4E is working across the world to ensure that sustainable, cost-effective solutions are offered.” 

UNEP

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Greenpeace tells Big Oil to stay clear of Congo’s carbon bomb

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The world’s largest oil and gas companies are urged by Greenpeace to sit out a major oil and gas auction in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) at the end of July. In letters sent to oil companies worldwide, Greenpeace warns of an ominous auction at the expense of biodiversity and global climate. The massive auction – fiercely opposed by local communities – overlaps peatlands and several Protected Areas.

Yesterday, DRC’s Oil Minister Didier Budimbu announced the auction covers 27 oil and three gas fields, exceeding the government’s decision in April, potentially without a legal mandate. The April plan encompassed an area more than 240,000 km² – an area about 300 times the size of Nairobi. The decision came only five months after the signing of a $500 million deal at the COP26 to help protect DRC’s forests with the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI).

“This auction not only makes a mockery of DRC’s posturing as a solution country for the climate crisis – it exposes Congolese people to corruption, violence, and poverty that inevitably come with the curse of oil, as well as more heat waves and less rains for all Africans, said Irene Wabiwa, International Project Lead for the Congo forest campaign at Greenpeace Africa. 

In a field trip last week to four of the designated oil blocks, Greenpeace Africa’s forest campaigners collected testimonies from local communities that were all shocked about the prospective auction of their lands to oil companies. Some communities, such as those living around the Upemba national park, see the prospective oil exploration as a direct threat to the lake they rely on for generations and are planning to resist it.

In a letter sent to oil and gas companies in Africa, Europe and the US, Greenpeace warns of oil blocks overlapping carbon-rich peatlands. In a recent article, Prof. Simon Lewis of the University of Leeds notes four blocks overlapping peatlands that store 5.8 billion tons of carbon – that is equivalent to more than 15 percent of global energy-related CO2 emissions in 2021. According to the International Energy Agency, any new fossil fuel project today would undermine reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 and this auction would be particularly toxic. 

“The international community and the Congolese government must end the neocolonial scramble for African fossil fuels by restricting oil companies’ access to the DRC, focusing instead on ending energy poverty through supporting clean, decentralised renewable energies” added Irene Wabiwa.

Contrary to repeated claims by Minister Budimbu that none of the oil and gas blocks to be auctioned lies within Protected Areas, official maps show that nine do.  The Minister acknowledged his miscommunication on 13 June. Following the augmentation of the auction, the updated number of blocks overlapping Protected Areas may be as high as 12. 

It remains unclear which oil companies are planning to bid in the auction. In a petition launched by Greenpeace with local and international partners, almost 100,000 people call on Congolese President Felix Tschisekedi not to sacrifice the rainforest to the oil industry.

This auction is taking place in the midst of a new global scramble for African fossil fuels reserves, from West African gas, through East African oil, even to importing South African coal

Greenpeace Africa calls on governments in the continent to put the interest of their people over the greed of rich nations and their multinational corporations by accelerating investments in renewable, clean and decentralised energy. And urges  all oil and gas companies to refrain from participating in the neocolonial scramble for African fossil fuels.

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Waste incineration and ‘recycled carbon fuel’, putting stokes in the renewable energy wheel

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Today the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) – European Parliaments’ lead committee on the revision of the Renewable Energy Directive (RED) – called for the Member States to take measures to ensure that energy from biomass is produced in a way that minimises distortive effects on the raw material market and harmful impacts on biodiversity, the environment and the climate. To that end, Member States shall take into account the waste hierarchy and the cascading principle.

As part of the measures, it requires the Member States to terminate support for the production of energy generated from the incineration of waste if the separate collection and the waste hierarchy obligations outlined in the Waste Framework Directive have not been complied with. 

Janek Vähk, Climate, Energy and Air Pollution Programme Coordinator: “Although a step in the right direction, the proposed criteria is a weak qualifier, given that, at incineration plants, the ‘biodegradable waste’, is never combusted without fossil-derived materials present. Thus, it remains possible for ‘renewable energy’ to be generated while emitting large quantities of fossil-derived CO2. Incineration plants are already the most carbon intense source of power in some Member States”. 

Vähk added, “We call for the criteria for the use of wastes to be improved so that no support for renewable energy is offered for the combustion of mixed waste”.

The committee also has decided to keep recycled carbon fuels – i.e. potentially plastic based fuels – as part of the Renewable Energy Directive, allowing non-renewable energy sources to contribute towards the EU renewables targets.  A recent study showed that plastic-derived fuel produces higher exhaust emissions compared to diesel. 

Lauriane Veillard, Policy Officer on Chemical Recycling and Plastic-to-Fuels: “Why does the European Parliament keep recycled carbon fuels as part of Renewable Energy Directive, when the definition itself recognizes the non-renewable sources of these fuels? This is greenwashing and will strongly undermine efforts to decarbonise the transport sector. We call on co-legislators to fully exclude the use of fossil based-fuels as part of the RED.”   

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