The head official at the European Commission’s renewable directorate says the EU’s focus needs to shift away from electricity towards heating and cooling if it is to achieve a balanced and successful energy policy.

Marie Donnelly, Director of Renewables at the DG Energy of the European Commission told a gathering at the Westminster Energy Environment and Transport Forum in London that the priority for the bloc needs to be heating and cooling rather than power.
Marie Donnelly
“Heating and cooling of our buildings consumes 46 per cent of our final energy, with power at just 21 per cent. So often at meetings we debate about electricity when really the key issue we need to address is heating and cooling – at last this is an issue being taken up by the commission.”

Donnelly, who told the forum that there should be an end of year strategy in place for heating and cooling in Europe, reinforced that message through reference to recent headline events in the East.

“The crisis that has been brought about by Russia- is a heat crisis, not an electricity crisis – it is not the lights that will go out, it is the heating. The Energy Union (policy announced Wednesday) is about refocusing what we really need to address in terms of our energy policy.”

In addition, Ms Donnelly took the opportunity at the event, entitled, Next Steps for the UK Renewable Energy Sector, to tell the audience of Brussels plans to increase empowerment of consumers, and help put them in control of their own consumption and costs. She took aim at the accepted system of receiving periodic bills from utilities saying “how happy would you be if you arrived to pay at a supermarket and had no idea what the bill was going to be. We don’t know it is costing us at the point of consumption.”

Ahead of the announced Energy Union policy document, Donnelly indicated how the recent difficulties with Russia had motivated EU policy makers to increase its co-operative effort in the sphere of energy. She said that ultimately better collaboration between the whole of the bloc can save billions of euros.

“Discussions with Russian haven’t gone any better since last year –we cannot operate policy in Europe through 28 energy boxes- we have been cut off twice before and have shown ourselves to be slow learners but this time it should prove to be third time lucky.”

To illustrate the usefulness of regional energy markets and interconnection as key drivers of the EU Energy Union policy, she gave the example of Irish and Danish experiences.

“So much of our renewables are variable and it’s expensive to balance. Take the case of Denmark and Ireland- similar sizes and populations and both pursuing wind power policies. It costs twice as much for Ireland to bring in the same renewable energy as Denmark- but Denmark is interconnected (on mainland Europe) and Ireland does not benefit so much from that.”

The UK, it was pointed out, has some way to go to reach the European standard interconnector target. The target is 10 per cent for the EU for 2020, and that is to be increased to 15 per cent, while the UK’s rate of interconnectivity is currently at 6 per cent.
Donnelly concluded her contribution by saying that Europe needed to value its leadership in renewables energy development, telling delegates, “We need to look at renewables as having a competitive advantage in the energy space.

She also emphasised how renewables could move in and contribute in areas where fossil fuels previously held the upper hand.

“District heating systems in eastern Europe could be more efficient and could be fuelled by renewables instead of gas,” she said.

For UK industry chiefs and attendees alike, one of the biggest grievances aired was the blatant subsidising of fossil fuels at a time when the renewables industries were being attacked for their engagement with government in that respect.

Dr Nina Skorupska, Chief Executive of the Renewable Energy Association said she had recently picked up a 150-page report documenting direct and indirect subsidies afforded to fossil fuels.

“The European Renewable Energy Federation’s Transparency report compared how many subsidies were awarded to all the different industries – renewables gets its fair share but direct and non-direct subsidies to fossil power are almost on a par – in particular with gas.”

“We have challenged (Secretary of State) Ed Davey who goes on about technology neutrality on this –we will only believe him when all those numbers are transparent and on the table.”

Leonie Greene of the Solar Trade Association echoed these sentiments. ”It’s indefensible that fossil gets six times the subsidies that renewables gets – we should preface all of our announcements with that. We see it in the UK with the very generous subsidies the chancellor (of the Exchequer) is paying out to fossil –we should be making more noise about it in the build up to (the UN Climate Change Conference) Paris.”

Greene added that the industry needed to be mindful of not allowing the development of storage technology to be used as an excuse to side-line solar power’s progress, pointing to the growing penetration of solar in the overall energy mix.

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