Towards a climate-neutral economy: EU Commission sets out plans for the energy system of the future

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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 yesterday, 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.

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