Biofuels have an important role to play in the energy union

Written by Dominique Ristori on 16 April 2018 in Opinion
Opinion

The EU is committed to ensuring that biofuels are truly sustainable and contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, says Dominique Ristori.

Biofuel pellets | Photo credit: Fotolia


The energy transition is happening globally and is a clear priority for the successful implementation of the Paris agreement. Two thirds of greenhouse gas emissions are related to the production and use of energy.

Europe is already playing a leading role in the clean energy transition by putting in place the energy union strategy. It has managed to successfully decouple its greenhouse gas emissions from its economic growth.

Between 1990 and 2016, greenhouse gas emissions in the EU were cut by 23 per cent, while the economy grew by 53 per cent over the same period. This shows that growth and decarbonisation can go hand in hand.


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In November 2016, the EU put forward the clean energy for all Europeans package - the most advanced legislative framework - to ensure Europe’s leadership in the clean energy transition and modernise the EU economy. This package is now being negotiated by the European Parliament and the Council, with the active support of the Commission. 

In particular, it sets the conditions for supporting development of the renewable energy sector and ensuring that it becomes a clear and profitable source of growth, competitiveness and jobs in Europe.

Europe’s renewable energy industry offers important potential. The sector already provides more than 1.1 million jobs in the EU with an annual turnover of €150bn. Renewables account for 16.7 per cent of the final energy consumption in the EU and this share continues to rise, putting the EU on track to meet its 2020 energy objectives.

The clean energy for all Europeans package puts in place the correct regulatory framework to accelerate investments towards renewable energies and ensure their secure and cost-effective deployment and integration in the whole energy system. It will ensure that the EU reaches its ambitious renewable energy target in the final energy consumption by 2030, providing investors with certainty and visibility.

Yet beyond the energy sector, this package also seizes new opportunities for renewable energies and ensures their deployment in other sectors, such as transport and heating and cooling, where important potential remains untapped. 

In particular, the transport sector is responsible for 32 per cent of final energy consumption and 24 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions. It relies on oil for 94 per cent of its energy needs. Alternative fuels such as biofuels could therefore help reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

The current regulatory framework, as well as research and technological development efforts, have led to successful demonstrations of alternative solutions for all transport modes. However, additional policy action is needed to ensure they have sufficient uptake in their markets.

Decarbonising the transport sector will require a gradual transformation of the entire system. All main alternative fuel options for the future of mobility must be pursued and investigated with a focus on the needs of each transport mode, including air transport. 

The clean mobility package, adopted by the Commission in November 2017, includes, in particular, an action plan to scale up the use of low-emission alternative energy for transport. These should include renewable electricity, advanced biofuels or hydrogen.

The revised renewable energy directive as part of the clean energy for all Europeans package also includes important measures for supporting development of biofuels and contributing to their cost reduction and competitiveness. This will enhance the role that biofuels can play in the global challenge of the energy transition, thus showing Europe’s leadership in fulfilling its Paris agreement commitments.

The EU is committed to make sure that biofuels are truly sustainable and contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. As such, the EU has already set sustainability criteria for biofuels taking into account the issue of indirect land-use.

The Commission has also proposed, as part of the clean energy for all Europeans package, to introduce an obligation on European transport fuel suppliers to sell a gradually increasing share of renewable and low-emissions fuels after 2020. 

This would include advanced biofuels, waste and renewable electricity. The obligation includes a specific sub-quota for advanced biofuels. At the same time, it proposes that the share of crop-based biofuels that count towards the EU renewable energy target should gradually decrease, in line with the sustainability objective.

These requirements will provide the industry with certainty over future market prospects for advanced biofuels which is needed to ensure largescale investment, innovation and significant reduction of production costs. This is expected to improve Europe’s competitiveness and to lead to job creation in the sector of advanced biofuels, also benefitting the development of rural areas.

Accelerating the shift to clean and sustainable mobility through promoting of biofuels not only offers economic opportunities and benefits in terms of decarbonisation, it also improves Europe’s energy security. At the same time, it is key to reduce urban pollution and improve the quality of life and health of all Europeans. It is therefore vital to sustain a high level of ambition during the negotiations process if Europe wishes to reap all the benefits of the energy transition.

 

About the author

Dominique Ristori is the European Commission’s Director-General for energy

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