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European Council’s First Energy summit ‘a breakthrough’

16/03/2011
According to EC Commissioner for Energy, Günther Oettinger, the European Council’s first Summit on energy in Brussels on 4th February 2011 was “a breakthrough for European energy policy.” The Summit, he added, would be “a benchmark for the years to come.”

At the meeting, EU Heads of State and Government agreed to back fourmain commitments: to complete the common internal energy market by2014; to eliminate ‘energy islands’ by 2014 – where some Member Statesare presently disconnected from the rest of the EU in terms of energy;to boost energy efficiency and to improve coordination and cooperationon energy with non-EU neighbours, particularly those to the east andthe south.

While the Summit focused mainly on the single energy market,boosting energy efficiency and external relations, it also tackledlow-carbon energy, emphasising, in its conclusions, the need to“promote investment in renewables and safe and sustainable low-carbontechnologies established in the European Strategic Energy TechnologyPlan [SET-Plan].” The Council invited the Commission to “table newinitiatives on smart grids, including those linked to the developmentof clean vehicles, energy storage, sustainable bio fuels and energysaving solutions for cities.”

The European Council also “looked forward to the elaboration of alow-carbon 2050 strategy providing the framework for the longer termaction in the energy and other related sectors.” Also, "reaching the EU objective of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80-95% by 2050 compared to 1990, as agreed in October 2009, will require a revolutionin energy systems, which must start now."

For José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, themeeting made “major progress” towards creating a “truly integratedEuropean energy market by 2014.” This, he said, could “deliver 5million new jobs, boost growth and reduce our energy dependence, whichcurrently costs €310 billion a year.” As part of this process, agreedthe Council, “Member States, in liaison with European standardizationbodies and industry, are invited to accelerate work with a view toadopting technical standards for electric vehicle charging systems bymid-2011 and for smart grids and meters by the end of 2012.”

The Council meeting also recognised that Europe needs to improve itsperformance on energy efficiency. For President Barroso, this is “thequickest way to reduce our bills, to achieve our 2020 targets onclimate and energy and cut consumer bills (...) Energy efficiency is alsoa way of ensuring a higher level of energy security.” The 2020 targeton energy efficiency, set by the European Council in June 2010, is“presently not on track,” the Summit admitted, but “must bedelivered.”  This, it says, “ requires determined action to tapthe considerable potential for higher energy savings of buildings,transport and products and processes.”

Meanwhile, concluded the Council, “major efforts are needed tomodernise and expand Europe’s energy infrastructure and to interconnectnetworks across borders.” This, it agreed, “is crucial to ensure thatsolidarity between Member States will become operational, thatalternative supply/transit routes and sources of energy willmaterialise and that renewables will develop and compete withtraditional sources.” No EU Member State, emphasised the Council,“should remain isolated from the European gas and electricity networksafter 2015 or see its energy security jeopardized by lack of theappropriate connections.”

The money for these improvements to infrastructure would, said theCouncil, need to be met mainly by the private sector, with “costsrecovered through tariffs.” But it allowed that some projects that arejustified in terms of security of supply or solidarity might require“some limited public finance to leverage private funding.” The Councilinvited the EC to report back by June 2011 with “figures on theinvestments likely to be needed, on suggestions on how to respond tofinancing requirements and on how to address possible obstacles toinfrastructure investment.”

Concluding the morning’s discussions on energy, the Council alsoendorsed its commitment towards greater coordination of EU externalenergy policy. In his presentation to the Summit, President Barrosoreminded the high-level representatives that the EU is responsible for20% of global energy use and is the world’s largest energy importer.One aim, he said, should be to “integrate Southern and Easternneighbours in the EU energy market and to strengthen cooperation withkey suppliers.”

Speaking a week later, at the European Parliament Low CarbonProsperity Summit in Brussels on 9 February, President Barroso furtherhighlighted the role that low-carbon energy initiatives can play inreducing the EU energy bill, while stimulating growth. “Achieving ourrenewables and energy efficiency targets in 2020 could reduce this billby €200 billion. It could also create up to two million jobs – most ofthem non-outsourced - and cut our CO2 emissions by more than 700million tonnes.”  Despite the progress being made, he added, “thisis not the time to take our foot off the accelerator.”

Some of the issues will be taken up again when EU energy Ministersmeet in Hungary on 28th February. Hungary currently holds thepresidency of the EU.

For further information or to read the conclusions of theEuropean Council meeting on energy:
http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/