HomeEuropeWill Europe embrace more renewables to beat back inflation?

Will Europe embrace more renewables to beat back inflation?

Fossil fuels have been responsible for the largest inflationary shocks in Europe since World War II: the oil crisis in the 1970s and the energy crisis that has now been unleashed by Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine.

Europe’s vulnerability to the current energy crisis has been the result of a longer-running pattern of holding back on clean energy ambition and a false sense of security that gas would provide a bridge fuel. A good example of this is Germany, which is only just coming out of a lost decade of sluggish RES growth and support for new gas import infrastructure such as Nord Stream 2. A new report by analysts at CREA found that stalled windpower development has hurt the country’s energy security, economy and climate efforts. Had wind power grown with the rest of the EU since 2015, they would have saved €23billion in 2022.

EU countries have been slow to reduce imports of Russian energy.

The consequences of this crisis have already been devastating. Europe’s scramble to source alternatives to Russian energy has sent global markets into turmoil. Inflated energy prices have left countries with less purchasing power in deep trouble, and landed European governments with huge costs to shield consumers, many of whom still face impossibly expensive fuel bills this winter. All the while, EU countries have been slow to reduce imports of Russian energy, with more than €100bn spent on Russian fossil fuels since the war escalated in February.

Better alternatives to fossil fuels are now available to reduce European vulnerability.

Contrary to the energy crisis of the 1970s however, mature, cheaper and better alternatives to fossil fuels are now available to reduce European vulnerability. Generating electricity from solar and wind is now multiple times cheaper than using gas. Heat pump sales are booming across Europe, allowing that electricity to be used to heat homes. One of Germany’s largest heat pump manufacturers, Stiebel Eltron, expects a record production of 80,000 units in 2022 and is investing €600 million to scale its production to 240,000 by 2025. That’s half of Germany’s 500,000 annual heat pump target from 2024 provided by only one manufacturer.

 A new report by E3G and Ember found that wind and solar energy produced a record quarter of the EU’s electricity in the period since March 2022, amounting to significant cost savings. The record increase in wind and solar compared to last year avoided the need for 8 billion cubic meters of additional fossil gas, saving €11billion.

EU energy ministers now have the opportunity to drive home these advantages of clean energy. Not long ago, it was popular to talk about the energy trilemma: the trade-off between security, affordability and sustainability. Russia’s war has resolved this trilemma, as the solutions to all three problems now point to clean energy and going green has become part of the EU’s security agenda.

The REPowerEU proposal, an EU plan to eliminate Europe’s dependence on Russian energy imports, would see the bloc source 45 percent of its overall energy mix from renewables and save 13 percent of its energy consumption through increased efficiency. Backing these targets now will send a powerful signal to markets and clean energy providers who are ready to deliver accelerated investment ahead of future winters. In its 2022 global market outlook, Solar Power Europe shows that the global solar market is growing exponentially. It took around a decade for worldwide solar capacity to reach 1TW, from 100GW in 2012. In just three years, SolarPower Europe predicts global solar to more than double to 2.3TW in 2025. 

It would also be an incredibly popular move with an overwhelming majority of Europeans in favor of massive investments in renewable energy. In total, 87 percent of Europeans think “the EU should invest massively in renewable energies such as solar and wind” and “should reduce its dependency on Russian sources of energy as soon as possible”.

With both the European Commission and European Parliament already coming out in support of raising EU clean energy ambition, it’s only the Energy Ministers who are still dithering. The Czech Presidency has even proposed to scrap the ambition lift entirely.

It would be a momentous act of self-harm to hold back — once again — on the ambition required to build out the very technologies that offer Europe the protection it badly needs, and the future its people overwhelmingly want.

Cheap renewables combined with energy efficiency provide Europe with the fastest way out of the current crisis.

Cheap renewables combined with energy efficiency provide Europe with the fastest way out of the current crisis, and the only path that is financially and socially sustainable, as well as fundamentally democratic. EU leaders will now need to overcome old but increasingly obsolete divisions between low- and high-carbon countries and unite behind a common plan that will help everyone reap the benefits that renewables are ready to provide.



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