Renewables bring SMEs and the public closer to the EU

Written by Nigel Cotton on 21 March 2017 in Thought Leader
Thought Leader

Renewables can bring SMEs and the public closer to the EU, writes Nigel Cotton.

Nigel Cotton | Photo credit: European Copper Institute

Whatever the outcome of Brexit, Trump and the rise of populism, they will pale into insignificance when compared to not dealing with climate change. Failing to capture every opportunity to mitigate, correct or adapt to climate change will have long-lasting effects way beyond the demise of Antarctic glaciers. 

The disappearance of Europe's coastal areas will be one thing but the migration of those who have lost their homes and livelihoods outside Europe will put untold pressure on us inside Europe.

If the current populist wave - manifested by Brexit, Wilders and Le Pen - is rooted in disaffection with Europe's elite establishment, then perhaps Europe's institutions should embrace renewables as a way to engage the public and recognise the fact that renewables have largely been driven by 'bottom up' implementation through empowered citizens and SMEs, despite the limitations often set by the incumbent establishment. 


A short review would find that it was the actions of the individual to install PV or solar thermal panels, retail giants and communities investing in local renewable projects or the actions of city Mayors to improve their citizen's lives that had a greater bearing on the uptake rather than the early efforts of the EU-sector establishment.

MEPs now have a real opportunity to show Europe's citizens how the EU helps improve their lives, their homes, work, schools, hospitals and environment. 

By actively encouraging renovation of the 200 million ageing buildings across Europe, MEPs can stimulate the SME economy; finance jobs and reduce fossil fuel use through energy efficiencies and renewable technologies. 

Billions of euros, which would otherwise have exited the EU to fund fossil fuel producer countries would instead circulate in the EU creating economic growth.

Renewable heat is made and installed in Europe. SMEs, which already provide more than 90 per cent of Europe's construction jobs, can be at the heart of delivering the many, varied and European-based products that can help deliver consumers: energy independence, clean emissions and reduced bills. 

If we want to decarbonise buildings, we must make the heat obligation in the RES directive mandatory, or at the least deliver a 1.5 per cent increase in renewable energy consumption. The EU must also begin replacing inefficient boilers with solar thermal systems, biomass stoves, efficient boiler options, geothermal plants, heat pumps and building automation. 

Renewable heat must be clearly eligible under the energy efficiency obligation scheme in the energy efficiency directive. We need to provide replacement schemes for Europe's 100 million ageing boilers and include labelling of existing equipment in the energy performance of buildings directive.

All these solutions could mitigate climate change and improve citizens' lives - starting today. We just need stronger policies and investment in Europe's heating and cooling sector.


About the author

Nigel Cotton is programme director at the European Copper Institute


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