European renewable ambitions on track as green hydrogen era beckons

Image: Flickr/Glyn Lowe.

The EU’s renewable targets remain well within reach despite COVID-19’s long shadow, according to figures released as countries urge the bloc to embrace the “missing link” of green hydrogen.

Earlier this week, the European Commission said it has assessed the national energy and climate plans put forward by states (see table below) and found that they would deliver an EU-wide renewable energy share of over 33% by 2030, overshooting the binding target of 32%.

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“Based on our initial analysis we can already see that regarding renewables, the news is positive,” EU Energy commissioner Kadri Simson said after a ministerial meeting. “However, in the context of crisis and the fall of renewable investments, we must make sure progress in this area continues.”

The Commission, Simson said after conferring online this week with EU Energy ministers, will follow with a definitive analysis of all national plans now that almost all states – only Ireland is missing – have produced theirs. By the autumn, the EU executive will publish its verdict. 

The solar ambitions of key EU states

Country Installed solar (as of end of 2019) Solar target
Germany ~50GW 98GW (2030)
France 9.43GW 18-21GW (2023), 35.6-44.5GW (2028)
Spain 8.8GW 37-39.2GW (2030)
Italy 20.9GW 50GW (2030)
Portugal 828MW 8.1-9.9GW (2030)
Source: Environment and Energy ministries of EU states

This year’s COVID-19 outbreak has come to disrupt every aspect of European life, renewable growth included. As reported by PV Tech, key solar markets from Spain to Italy, Portugal, France and Germany have faced deployment restrictions and a sudden dampening of financing prospects.

As commissioner Simson noted, global green energy investment – already judged insufficient pre-COVID – has been predicted to further falter this year, all of it at a time when EU states must mobilise ever greater sums to deliver steep renewable targets.

The Commission has responded by pushing the sector to the heart of the EU recovery, announcing in late May a €1.85 trillion (US$2.07 trillion) splurge in renewables, energy-efficient buildings, green transport, fair minimum wages and other areas.

As underscored by published and leaked EU documents (see below), Brussels views the post-COVID role of solar and wind as inextricably linked to that of green hydrogen. Based on the drafts so far, billions will reportedly be set aside to engineer an EU-wide boom of the renewable gas.  

An EU era of renewables and green hydrogen: What we know so far

According to an EU draft leaked in late May, the European Commission is contemplating the following actions as part of its drive to make renewables a post-COVID cornerstone:

1) Expansion of renewable energy via auctions: The draft describes an “EU Tendering scheme” that would see 15GW of green energy auctioned across the bloc this year and next, plus funding top-ups for national tenders and EIB loans for projects nearing financial close.

Funding: €10 billion (two years)

2) Expansion of green hydrogen: According to the leak, the EU will tap into the Clean Hydrogen Partnership, the Innovation Fund, contracts-for-difference support and various other instruments to take EU-wide production of green hydrogen past the one-million-tonne mark every year.

Funding: €1.3 billion to double the Clean Hydrogen Partnership (via the MFF), €5-30 billion to take green hydrogen production to one million tonnes (via the Innovation Fund)

As far as EU policymakers believe they are prepared to go with green hydrogen, the bloc’s top economies want them to go further.

In a recent letter, the Energy ministers of Germany, France, the Netherlands, Austria, Belgium and Luxembourg urged the European Commission to produce a more concrete green hydrogen plan than so far, complete with new laws, targets for 2030 and actions to boost R&D and investment.

Green hydrogen, says the joint declaration, could help decarbonise “hard-to-abate” sectors such as industry. The renewable gas could be a cornerstone of an integrated future energy system based on “sector coupling and seasonal energy storage”, the six countries believe.

The calls on the EU executive emerge amid a global race for what is fast becoming a talking point of the energy transition. As noted by PV Tech, green hydrogen is being targeted by European energy majors, renewable complexes in Australia, US Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden and others.

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