By Kathleen Davis
Senior Editor, POWERGRID International
No one was really sure this day would come, but, yesterday, European Union Energy Commissioner GÃ¼nther Oettinger threw his weight behind a united EU energy front at a press conference at the EU headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.
European (and sometimes even global) media has speculated in the months since his appointment that Oettinger might back the more conservative flow of fellow German, Oettinger’s party chairwoman and home country Chancellor Angela Merkel, who worked hard a couple of years ago to weaken stronger EU group energy plans.
Instead, Oettinger drew back the veil on a trillion-euro unity plan for the next decade. At the top of the “to do” list was saving energy and achieving a competitive and securely supplied energy market. The European Commission hopes to achieve those lofty goals through technology leadership and negotiations – communication is the key.
“The energy challenge is one of the greatest tests for us all. Putting our energy system onto a new, more sustainable and secure path may take time but ambitious decisions need to be taken now,” Oettinger said, “To have an efficient, competitive and low-carbon economy we have to Europeanize our energy policy and focus on a few but pressing priorities.”
At the November 10 press conference, Oettinger identified five top priorities for legislative initiatives and proposals through the next 18 months, including:
* Energy savings, especially in the transport and buildings sector. Energy efficiency is the big push here, with a look at financial incentives for homeowners, industry and municipalities to make the deal sweeter popping into play by the middle of 2011.
* Pan-Europe energy, complete with an integrated energy market and infrastructures (including both gas and electricity). In rather strong wording, the commission noted that “by 2015 no member state should be isolated.” But, to do so that quickly will take a lot of investment. That’s really where most of those trillion euros come into the plan. To help speed things along, the commission wants to simplify permits and set up what they call a “one-stop shop” for coordination.
* “One voice for 27 states.” You could think of this point as a “We are the World”-type of initiative, only more “We are Europe.” Basically, the EU wants to coordinate energy for the continent, right down to policy, and they announced that Africa gets to play, too, pulling in provisions to cooperate with their southern neighbors on sustainable energy.
* More tech, and more innovative tech, please. Four major projects in key areas for Europe’s competitiveness will be launched under this program that covers technologies for intelligent networks and electricity storage, research on second-generation biofuels and the smart cities partnership to promote energy savings in urban areas.
* Go, go European consumer. The EU is relying heavily on the customer side of this issue. They want “safe, secure and affordable energy through active consumers,” according to the wording of the plan. To do so, there will be changes in how a consumer compares prices and how fast (or slow) they can switch suppliers. Additionally, the commission wants to clear up billing and make it decidedly more transparent across the board.
These goals are an extension of the “Europe 2020 Strategy for Smart, Sustainable and Inclusive Growth” as adopted by the European Council in June 2010.
In particular, the EU aims at achieving ambitious energy and climate-change objectives for 2020: reduce the greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent, increase the share of renewable energy to 20 percent and make a 20 percent improvement in energy efficiency.
The first EU Summit on Energy will be held February 4, 2011, Oettinger said.