Europe! (part 3)

The European Commission has added two building blocks to its burgeoning structure of economic and environmental policy initiatives. In separate communications on July 8, the EC announced An EU Strategy for Energy System Integration and A Hydrogen Strategy for a Climate-Neutral Europe. Together the two strategies present a practical pathway toward a sustainable energy economy.

The Integration Strategy starts with an assessment of the status quo:

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. 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.

European Commission, Powering a climate-neutral economy: An EU Strategy for Energy System Integration, July 8, 2020

An EC press release illustrates the vision for integration as follows:

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.

European Commission, Powering a climate-neutral economy: Commission sets out plans for the energy system of the future and clean hydrogen, July 8, 2020

The Hydrogen Strategy picks up where the integration vision leaves off:

There are many reasons why hydrogen is a key priority to achieve the European Green Deal and Europe’s clean energy transition. Renewable electricity is expected to decarbonise a large share of the EU energy consumption by 2050, but not all of it. Hydrogen has a strong potential to bridge some of this gap, as a vector for renewable energy storage, alongside batteries, and transport, ensuring back up for seasonal variations and connecting production locations to more distant demand centres. In its strategic vision for a climate-neutral EU published in November 2018, the share of hydrogen in Europe’s energy mix is projected to grow from the current less than 2% to 13-14% by 2050.

European Commission, A hydrogen strategy for a climate-neutral Europe, July 8, 2020

The strategy acknowledges that hydrogen can be packaged in different chemical forms including ammonia, methanol, and liquid organic hydrides.

Europe’s far-reaching economic and environmental program has important roots in the Paris Climate Agreement. The December 2015 accord calls on countries to create “national climate action plans” that would produce “nationally determined contributions” toward reduced greenhouse gas emissions. The EU formally signed on to the agreement in October 2016. It went into force for signator countries the following month.

Over the next two and a half years, the EC developed a series of measures under the banner Clean Energy for All Europeans. According to an EC press release, “it includes 8 legislative acts which contribute to shaping the Energy Union and fulfilling the EU’s Paris Agreement Commitments.” Among its major focuses is a “target of at least 32% in renewable energy by 2030.”  (The Energy Integration Strategy increases the 2030 target to 55-60%.)

In July 2019, the European Parliament chose Ursula von der Leyen, a veteran German cabinet minister, to serve as President of the European Commission. In November the European Parliament voted to declare a climate and environmental emergency. A Washington Post article characterized the step as “a largely symbolic move that nonetheless increases pressure on member states to legislate more decisively to curb emissions.”

In recent months, hundreds of similar declarations have been passed — most of them by regional or local administrations. Thursday’s vote is significant because it was passed by a parliament that represents more than 500 million people, vastly expanding the number worldwide who live in jurisdictions that have declared such an emergency.

Thursday’s move also puts pressure on the European Commission under its president-elect, Ursula von der Leyen, the first woman to hold the job.

As president of the European Union’s executive branch, she commands a vast machinery of E.U. bureaucrats that manages the bloc’s day-to-day business. The European Parliament is directly elected by voters in all 28 E.U. member states.

Washington Post, European Parliament declares climate emergency amid momentum for Green Deal, November 28, 2019

Just two weeks later, von der Leyen announced the European Green Deal. (The Green Deal was discussed in Europe!, Ammonia Energy‘s first article in what has turned into a small series.)

In the intervening months, it has become clear that the EC is building an integrated policy edifice, cross-linking a series of initiatives to create synergies of design, execution, and impact. In February 2020, the EC made a series of announcements about a bloc-wide digital strategy which included an explicit tie-in to the role digital technologies can play in a clean energy sector. (“The EU’s digital strategy aims to make this transformation work for people and businesses, while helping to achieve its target of a climate-neutral Europe by 2050.”)

In March, the EC unveiled a new European industrial strategy that was positioned as an outgrowth of the Green Deal: “The European Green Deal is Europe’s new growth strategy. At the heart of it is the goal of becoming the world’s first climate-neutral continent by 2050. Industry has a leading role to play in what is the greatest challenge and opportunity of our times.”

In May, the EC proposed the creation of a corona virus “recovery instrument,” Next Generation EU. In announcing the package, von der Leyen placed this initiative too in the weave of the policy fabric:

The recovery plan turns the immense challenge we face into an opportunity, not only by supporting the recovery but also by investing in our future: the European Green Deal and digitalization will boost jobs and growth, the resilience of our societies and the health of our environment.

Ursula von der Leyen, quoted in Europe’s moment: Repair and prepare for the next generation, May 27, 2020

Perhaps promulgation of the Energy Integration and Hydrogen strategies marks an inflection point in Europe’s burst of groundbreaking policy development, and attention will shift hereafter to practical implementation. That path will be strewn with obstacles and difficulties. One only needs to scratch the surface to uncover fair-minded critiques of virtually every element of the policy program. But the program is endowed with vision and ambition, and these qualities are indispensable if we are to rise to the current challenge.

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