Increasing Europe’s Energy Autonomy: Offshore Renewable Energy and Energy Storage

By Claudia Gamon, MEP, (Renew Europe Group), Member of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety

The past two years have undoubtedly brought special attention to the energy sector among the European

public, which was perhaps last seen during the industrial revolution. Starting with the initiative of Greta Thunberg in 2018, public awareness about climate change increased dramatically. This also forced EU officials into dealing with this issue and providing rapid solutions. Consequently, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen addressed this need in her speech on the State of the Union setting the goal of cutting EU CO2 emissions by 55% until 2030 and eventually becoming the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. At the same time, she pointed to another important strategic issue, the reduction of our energy import dependency. Today, more than half of the EU’s energy needs is met via net imports – with Russia being the Union’s major supplier. In light of the recent sanctions against Russia, energy autonomy has become a geostrategic challenge.

Meeting the two goals of reducing CO2 emissions and developing energy autonomy, fortunately, is not mutually exclusive, but rather complementary. Both can only be achieved by a substantial boost in renewable infrastructure such as photovoltaic and wind parks.

In this respect, I welcome the European Commission’s roadmap on offshore renewable energy with the aim of developing a plan to access the vast latent potential of floating wind, wave, or tide. According to the Commission, there is a potential of more than 250 GW in installing offshore wind parks from the Black Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. One prime example is the upcoming Ijmuiden Ver wind farm about 80 kilometres off the Dutch coast. In this respect, I also want to highlight the importance of incorporating all relevant stakeholders in such planning processes in order to arrive at a satisfying solution for everybody.Without successful citizen participation, local resistance can become a major obstacle. Another important factor is close cooperation between the member states to ensure a coordinated planning of cross-border offshore electricity grids and onshore landing points.

Renewable energy, however, creates a special challenge for the European energy supply. Power generation is complex to control. A higher share of renewable energy sources inevitably leads to higher volatility in the electricity grid. At the same time, our utmost priority is to secure constant and affordable electricity supply at all times. In order to achieve this, a massive increase of energy storage capacity is needed. This allows us to equalise peaks and lows in supply and demand and, thereby, help to avoid extreme electricity prices. Aside from a general increase in storage capacity, it is also crucial to implement a broad range of storage technologies to secure not only short-term storage but also seasonal storage over months. Unfortunately, the latest advancements of national governments such as Germany and Austria on targeting net-zero carbon emissions barely acknowledge the full potential of energy storage.

In its recently adopted own-initiative report on energy storage, the European Parliament calls for a comprehensive strategy on energy storage – particularly in light of the existing regulatory barriers.

A crucial element is abolishing double taxation and network charges in the upcoming revision of the Energy Taxation directive as this deteriorates market access considerably. Likewise, the revision of the TEN-E regulation must solve the problem that some PCI projects significantly exceed their PCI approval periods. Additionally, storage projects should be included as candidates receiving PCI status. Lastly, there is still a lack of clarity in state aid guidelines for storage projects, which hampers the development of technologies that are not yet market-ready. We also call for an appropriate revision here.

The European Parliament is convinced that different storage technologies will play a role in contributing to the goals we set out. Hence, we need to foster the development of different kinds of storage technologies and tie them to our high environmental and social standards. Consequently, the Commission should set up a task force that carries out an extensive analysis of each storage technology concerning its life cycle and CO2-footprint. This should serve as a basis for granting state aid. The European Parliament also recommends restricting state aid to early-stage technologies and cut the funding once these projects become commercial.

In conclusion, I want to highlight that the Commission’s plan to boost investment in (offshore) renewable infrastructure is a step forward in achieving both net-zero emissions by 2050 and increased energy autonomy. At the same time, it needs to be accompanied by an equivalent expansion of storage facilities and technologies to guarantee a steady supply.