This is a historic period. The year of 2015 will hopefully be remembered as the turning point in the global fight against climate change and in the European transition towards a low-carbon economy. In December this year, global leaders will convene in Paris to negotiate an international framework for reducing our carbon footprint, right before it might be too late. The EU has set itself ambitious goals for reducing its own emissions, and through diplomatic channels we encourage our global partners to follow a similar path.
What is certain is that 2015 marks the launch of the most ambitious European energy project since the Coal and Steel Community of the 1950s. The need to decarbonize, become more energy efficient and to ensure energy supply, along with the necessity to render energy prices more competitive has brought European leaders to a realization that a profound change was needed. In February 2015, the European Commission therefore announced its five-year strategy for creating a viable ‘Energy Union’.
Smart grids will be the European shale […] the new brain of a new system.
The envisioned common energy market will provide Europe with energy which is secure, competitive, and sustainable. Security will be gained through diversification of sources and suppliers of our energy, more renewables and more energy efficiency. Competitiveness of the market will be reached by removing barriers between energy markets and creating one European market. Sustainability lies in Europe’s commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40%; increase the share of renewable energy to at least 27%, and improve energy efficiency by at least 27%.
We are not stopping there. Citizens are no longer passive consumers; they are becoming ‘prosumers’ – or consumers who can produce energy and supply it into the energy grids. This will allow individuals to benefit from lower prices of energy produced by others. With smart grids in place, a sunny day in Milan should lower energy prices in Nice; and a windy day in Copenhagen should lower energy prices in Vilnius or even in Minsk! The Energy Union does not stop at EU borders.
When it comes to industry, the challenge is to retain Europe’s leading role in global investment in renewable energy. But the energy transition is not only about the energy sector; the change we are bringing about will benefit all industries. Current wholesale gas prices are still more than twice as high as in the U.S. This reduces the competitiveness of our industries, especially those which are energy-intensive. As if it were not enough that we pay higher prices, we are also highly dependent on too few dominant suppliers, making us vulnerable to disruptions and price distortions.
The third and very important winner of the Energy Union is our planet. And in saving our planet from global warming and pollution we are saving ourselves from phenomena that are linked to climate change, such as poverty, unemployment, war, and oppression. Reducing our greenhouse gas emissions must therefore be a strategic decision of our generation.
In fact, this environmental cause is not about making altruistic sacrifices. On the contrary: the energy transition has great potential in revitalizing our economy. Other than providing our industries with indigenous resources, European expertise in exploiting sustainable energy sources has tremendous potential around the globe. India and China are both massive markets increasingly interested in sustainable solutions. In a globalized world, the technological solution could come from anywhere: Bangalore or San Francisco, Dublin or Berlin!
The Energy Union is a ‘triple win’ strategy for our citizens, economy, and environment.
The three go hand-in-hand, making Europe a better place to live in. We will make sure that 2015 will be remembered as the year which put us on the right track.
I would like to conclude by inviting readers to attend the 2015 edition of the European Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW), offering a plethora of activities across Europe throughout the month of June. The EUSEW is an excellent opportunity to meet and exchange ideas and best practices. One of the highlights this year is the ‘Visualising Energy’ photo exhibition in Brussels, featuring some of the industries, companies and people who are pioneers in the global energy transition.
Other than the opportunity for professionals to meet, I hope the EUSEW will also give the stage to new voices and fresh views on how to make the Energy Union a joint success. Every voice matters, every idea counts. This is your chance to join the discussions and make your voice heard.