Pragmatic and voluntaristic, Günther H. Oettinger, member of the European Commission for Energy lists the conditions, synergies and resources needed for a fast, global implementation of the various types of renewable energy in the European Union.
Never before has the world needed so much energy. Its consumption has almost doubled since 1980. If this trend continues, it will be difficult to avoid a major energy crisis, with electricity cuts and shortages of petrol and gas.
We cannot afford to wait
We must act to avoid global warming. At the same time, we must guarantee affordable energy prices since our economic competitiveness largely depends on energy prices and reliable energy supplies. The EU's growing dependence on imports from third countries, in particular of petrol (85%) and (65%), is also a serious cause for concern. All these challenges must be met and require determined action.
A new strategy for the next decade
National policies are no longer enough to ensure sustained economic recovery and preserve our standard of living. Any decision taken by a member-state affects the other member states. The fragmentation of the markets makes supplies less reliable and limits the advantages of fair competition, whilst our investments for the future will only be profitable and effective within the framework of a continental market. We must promote a common energy policy that contributes to the realisation of our common strategic objectives: competitiveness, sustainability and security of supplies.
Generally speaking, I see five courses of action in the interests of all member states and citizens:
Priority to energy savings
There are many ways to save energy. Bearing in mind our commitment to significantly reducing our emissions and attaining the objective of increasing energy efficiency by 20% by 2020, this is the action that is most likely to have an immediate impact on energy saving, reducing waste and maintaining our competitiveness.
To this end, the EU has adopted a new directive relating to energy efficiency that obliges the member states to implement restrictive measures such as the obligation for companies in the energy sector to reduce energy consumption at client level and the obligation for member states to renovate 3% of central government buildings every year. It is also encouraging energy audits for SMEs and has introduced compulsory energy saving reviews for large companies.
A single, highly integrated European energy market
We can no longer tolerate barriers that prevent energy flows from circulating within the EU, nor national frontiers that limit the advantages of the single market, the competitiveness of our companies and the meeting of essential needs for the population as a whole. Fair competition, quality of service and free access must be guaranteed. In this respect, the correct application of all EU legislation is a must, but the existence of an adequate infrastructure is a condition sine qua non.
It is time to provide the energy industry with Pan-European infrastructures comparable to those that other public interest sectors such as telecommunications and transport have long enjoyed. By 2015, no member-state should be isolated from the domestic European energy supply market. This means that we must concentrate our efforts on the practical projects needed if we are to reach our goals: solidarity, an interconnected market, new production capacities, an "intelligent network" and the large-scale production of renewable energy, accessible to all at competitive prices.
It is the impact on the population that must always motivate these efforts. Consumers should be able to benefit from a wider choice and benefit from new possibilities. Energy policies must therefore be more accessible to the consumer, which means greater transparency and more information. I would also like all the tools, such as the consumer control list to be improved and used more widely. This also means respecting the right of consumers to having their basic energy requirements met at any time, including during supply crises.
The EU energy policy also aims to introduce greater transparency, to provide more, better quality information, to make the retail market work better and to perfect a suitable infrastructure and safety nets for vulnerable consumers. Today, the EU represents decisive added-value for the whole population since it guarantees the application in all member-states of the most rigorous safety and security norms. We must stay on course and not relax our guard.
Towards a technological rupture
Within the sphere of energy technologies, we must consolidate and accentuate the progress of Europe. I would like to draw up a European reference framework in which the member-states and regions can optimise their efforts in view of accelerating the adoption of technologies by the market. Europe has companies and renewable energy research institutes that are amongst the best in the world and we must remain ahead. As well as the strategic plan for energy technologies, we have already launched large-scale projects with high European added-value:
- Intelligent networks to link the whole system of electric networks to each household and offer better access to sources of renewable energy.
- The partnership for the "Intelligent Cities" innovation to promote, all over Europe, energy systems that are integrated at local level and facilitate energy savings.
Reinforce the driving role of the EU in the world
With 500 million inhabitants, the EU has the biggest regional energy market in the world and represents a fifth of the world's energy consumption. The EU is also the biggest economic bloc in the world. We must therefore use our geopolitical influence and take advantage of the single market. Each time the EU has spoken with one voice, it has obtained results.
The integration of the energy market with our neighbours is essential and contributes to our security and to theirs, but our international relations must be developed and aim at the introduction of strategic partnerships with key partners. A common European policy is a major asset for reinforcing our position in difficult negotiations and maintaining our leading role on the international stage.
It is time to act
This year, we must hold talks and decide on our energy and climate objectives for 2030, in order to allow the member-states to prepare themselves and guarantee legal security to investors in the industry. As Jean Monnet said, "without vision, the nations will die." Our generation must seize the opportunity to make this strategic vision a reality.