The European Parliament’s industry committee voted on Wednesday (13 July) in favour of an EU-wide objective to more than double the bloc’s production of renewable energy – from the current 22% to 45% by 2030 – in reaction to the war in Ukraine.
The new 2030 objective is a substantial increase compared to the 40% target tabled by the European Commission only a year ago as part of its ‘Fit for 55’ climate plan.
But following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, lawmakers from all political sides rallied behind proposals to raise this objective to 45%.
The updated target is also in line with European Commission plans tabled on 18 May, which sought to eliminate all imports of Russian fossil fuels “well before” 2030 and accelerate the energy transition in response to Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine.
“This is a good day for Europe’s energy transition,” said Markus Pieper, a German lawmaker from the centre-right EPP group who is the European Parliament’s lead negotiator on the Renewable Energy Directive.
The Parliament’s support for a higher renewables target was widely expected after all the main political groups rallied behind the suggestion in March.
“In the context of both the climate crisis and the Russian war on Ukraine, I am pleased that we increased the ambition of the Renewable Energy Directive,” said Ville Niinistö, a Finnish MEP who is the Greens’ speaker on renewables in Parliament.
“This is a welcome step, but as Greens/EFA, we would have liked 56%, which is on a pathway to a fully renewable economy by 2040,” he added in emailed comments to EURACTIV.
In a separate vote on Wednesday, MEPs also backed higher targets for the revised Energy Efficiency Directive (EED).
The EU’s updated renewable energy objective is not yet written into law, however. For that to happen, the proposal will need majority backing from the 27 EU member states, which have yet to adopt a common stance on the matter.
When they last met in May, the bloc’s environment ministers voted in favour of the 40% target tabled by the Commission a year ago but postponed the decision on the final objective.
A decision is expected before the end of the year during so-called trilogue talks involving the Commission, MEPs and national ministers.
Renewable energy industry representatives hailed the Parliament committee vote as an important milestone.
“Now that support for a minimum 45% renewables target is secured in the European Parliament and Commission, we need to ensure that ambition is upheld or increased in Autumn during negotiations with the Council,” said Walburga Hemetsberger, CEO of SolarPower Europe, an industry association.
“A 45% renewable energy target – or higher – is a key opportunity to support the great reset of EU solar manufacturing that will bring jobs, growth, and security,” she added.
One of the new ideas in the Parliament report is to double the number of mandatory cross-border renewable electricity or green hydrogen projects to two per country, with the largest EU member states having to reach three projects by 2030, Pieper explained.
Another is the introduction of “innovation quotas” for the expansion of innovative renewable energy technologies. “That means that each member state shall set an indicative target of at least 5% of new installed renewable energy capacity” being recognised as “innovative technologies” by 2030, he explained.
The renewables industry and research actors welcomed the initiative and called on EU member states to back innovation quotas.
“This innovation sub-target can be Europe’s bridge over the ‘Valley of Death’,” said Rémi Gruet, CEO of Ocean Energy Europe, an industry association. “It will allow new renewable energy technologies to scale up in the market and will ensure Europe remains at the frontier of renewable energy innovation,” he said in a statement.
Hydrogen sticking point
There were disagreements over hydrogen, however, with political parties split on the criteria for the definition of “green” hydrogen produced from renewable electricity.
“Specifically, we want to include all plants for the production of green hydrogen, including existing plants and previously subsidised ones,” Pieper said in an explanatory note.
EPP lawmakers want to simplify a system whereby electrolysers need to provide proof of the purchase and consumption of green electricity in order to qualify as “renewable” hydrogen. The idea is that at times “when there is no wind, purchasing from the grid is possible,” Pieper explained.
The German MEP also wants to introduce an equalising system in order to facilitate the purchase of green hydrogen over long distances and different price zones. “I would like an electrolyser located in Hamburg to be able to obtain green electricity from Denmark without bureaucratic complications,” he said.
However, parties could not agree on the exact criteria at this stage.
What lawmakers did agree is to remove all provisions related to low-carbon hydrogen from the renewable energy directive. The “low-carbon” term refers to hydrogen produced either from nuclear power electrolysis or from fossil gas using carbon capture technology to bury the CO2 emissions underground.
While the EPP was favourable to the inclusion of low-carbon technologies into the renewables directive, other parties opposed it. It was eventually agreed that low-carbon hydrogen will be dealt with under the gas and hydrogen package that was tabled by the European Commission in December last year.
“I am satisfied because the inclusion of low-carbon hydrogen would have been a big mistake that would have undermined the objectives of the directive,” said Nicolás González Casares, a Spanish MEP with the Socialists and Democrats (S&D).