REPowerEU’s overall aim is to invest in renewable energies to cut reliance on fossil fuels. Source: ec.europa.eu.
On March 8th the European Commission launched the ambitious program REPowerEU to address the global energy market disruption after Russia invaded Ukraine. Ending the EU's reliance on Russian fossil fuels, often used as a political and economic weapon and costing European taxpayers nearly €100 billion per year, and addressing the climate problem are two pressing priorities for transforming Europe's energy system. The overall goal is to free Europe from Russian fossil fuels by 2030. According to the Eurobarometer, approximately 85% of Europeans support reducing Europe's reliance on Russia for gas and oil to support Ukraine.
REPowerEU is developed on three fundamental pillars based on several short-term and middle-term goals. The three pillars are, 1) diversification of energy supplies, 2) energy storage, and 3) clean energy production. This entails strong financial and legal support as the plan requires the construction of new infrastructure and the development of new partnerships. Accordingly, the first pillar aims to identify new energy sources through collaboration with new international partners. New alternative gas, oil, and coal supplies are necessary as soon as feasible to cover the present needs and gradually shift to hydrogen. As explained by the second pillar, energy storage will entail the active participation of every individual, business, and organization through a wide range of behavioral adjustments. The EU will support this through contingency plans, where necessary. At the same time, all actors will need to work on increasing the rate of clean energy development as renewable energy is less expensive and more hygienic and can be produced domestically, therefore reducing reliance on imported energy.
The EU has set a series of short and medium-term goals to realize these pillars. Immediate priorities are the purchase of LNG and hydrogen through the EU Energy Platform for all the European countries, including Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, and the Western Balkans. They will establish new energy relationships with trustworthy suppliers, future renewables and low-carbon gas collaboration. They will deploy solar and wind energy projects and develop renewable hydrogen to save roughly 50 billion cubic meters of gas imports. They will increase the biomethane generation to spare 17 billion cubic meters of imported gas. They will promote good information through the EU Save Energy Communication with advice on how consumers and businesses can save about 13 billion cubic meters of gas imports by the summer. They will approve the first EU-wide hydrogen projects before the end of the year; the achievement by November 1st of a fill gas storage capacity of 80%.
By 2027, the EU aims to achieve several medium-term goals. Among them is the launch of New national REPowerEU Plans under the modified Recovery and Resilience Fund – to support investment and reforms worth €300 billion. Boosting industrial decarbonization with €3 billion of frontloaded projects under the Innovation Fund; new legislation and recommendations to introduce renewables in dedicated ‘go–to areas’ with low environmental risk. Investments in an integrated and adapted gas and electricity infrastructure network. Efficiency increases by 2030 from 9% to 13%, and renewables target by 2030 from 40% to 45%. They improve access to critical raw materials and a modern regulatory framework for hydrogen.
The primary tool used to implement the pillars will be the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF), which will help member states align their domestic legislation to the new goals. Other resources will be available to finance the REPowerEU project. The European Investment Bank, the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, national fiscal measures, and private investment are expected to support the new plan actively. Enhanced EU cooperation with the G7, G20, and other international meetings with OPEC and the IEA will also be guaranteed.
Nevertheless, despite setting forth several goals and the EU Commission President’s statement on the need for a massive reduction of Russian resources, some vagueness has been noted. This concerns the lack of a well-specified definition of dependence on Russian energy. On the one hand, the EU proposes reducing its overall gas consumption by about 100 billion cubic meters in the upcoming year, with Russia accounting for the majority. On the other hand, the EU’s statement focuses solely on the fact that the commission will work with member states to identify the most effective projects to achieve its goals, drawing on the significant work already done through national recovery and resilience plans.
Moreover, it has been argued that without a rapid implementation of the Fit for 55 suggestions and stronger renewables and energy efficiency targets, the REPowerEU plan is bound to fail. The Fit for 55 is a measure package released between July and December 2021 that includes drafts of relevant EU climate and energy legislation. In this package, particular emphasis is given to cutting the EU’s reliance on fossil fuels and expanding the use of renewable energy sources. The most important will be solar, wind, and hydropower energy. The commission suggests that gas usage will be more restricted within this framework as the EU’s gas consumption will decline faster than previously anticipated. Nevertheless, as this is a transitional phase, some existing coal facilities may be employed for longer than planned. The commission also emphasizes the role of nuclear power and domestic gas resources.
Another weak point concerns indications of energy storage, a necessary step toward achieving the REPowerEU plan. In a leaked draft of the project in April, no mention of storage measures is made besides hydrogen and natural gas. This prompted the European Association for Storage of Energy (EASE) and other trade organizations to write an open letter to the European Commission urging it to incorporate batteries, mechanical, and thermal storage technologies into its plans. Although the European Commission later introduced some revisions, the storage issue remains vague.
Other actors commented on the new project. Most notably, Greenpeace noted that, while the REPowerEU takes reasonable steps toward the environment, it will not stop funding authoritarian governments. Accordingly, finding new oil and gas suppliers will fuel future crises worldwide and worsen the problem of climate change. Since Europe is forced to modify its energy system, it should take another, more revolutionary direction to end its reliance on fossil fuels. Therefore, the EU must ensure that the new contracts with alternative supplies will be countered by a new exit strategy to avoid the perpetuation of old problems. Moreover, Greenpeace emphasizes that the European Commission empowers the democratic participation of ordinary people through the creation of cooperatives and organizations managed directly by the local communities. Also, revenues from the energy sectors should alleviate most European households that are currently going through a difficult period due to the rising prices.
On this point, while applauding the overall project, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) expressed its concerns. These regard urgent measures to protect citizens and workers from the detrimental effects of rising energy prices. Although the Commission emphasizes the plan’s fairness and solidarity ideals, REPower EU’s objective remains limited. The ETUC believes that further steps need to be taken to safeguard EU citizens and workers from current sharp price fluctuations to guarantee people’s right to affordable and clean energy. Consequently, trade unions are calling for more actions to boost the social side of the REPower EU.
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