How to maximise energy resources for a resilient Europe

Europe is in a vulnerable position this winter. In order to build ourselves up, we must optimise our collective energy resources
Photo: Adobe stock

By Seán Kelly

Seán Kelly (IE, EPP) is the leader of the Fine Gael delegation in the European Parliament

03 Oct 2022

Still living with the scars of the pandemic, Europe is facing a fundamental shift spurred by the unjust war in Ukraine. There have been encouraging signs in recent weeks on the front lines, forcing Russain President Vladimir Putin to mobilise at least 300,000 drafted soldiers to fight his ideological and callous war. The ramifications of this decision will soon be evident, but regardless, it is clear we have moved into a new phase of the conflict.

Putin’s armed forces have underwhelmed but he retains a strong grip on energy supply, for now. We are facing a tough winter; no need to sugar coat it or hide from it.

Europe has changed, the world has changed, and we must be prepared to change with it. Bold action must be taken to protect citizens from the worsening energy price hikes. The market should be for the benefit of society, not syphon life from it. However, immediate actions to mitigate the energy crisis should not be at the detriment of the future needs of our energy system.

We are facing a tough winter; no need to sugar coat it or hide from it.

This is an inflection point for energy policy in the European Union. There must be a balance between the immediate needs of society and the economy, and our longer-term needs, which will remove reliance on volatile commodity markets and supply chains by decarbonising the energy system.

It is a question of maximising our collective resources. There is untapped and underdeveloped potential in many facets of energy generation in Europe, most notably solar energy, biogas, offshore wind as well as green hydrogen. The European Commission’s recent REPowerEU Plan sets out a pathway to reducing Europe’s dependence on Russian fossil fuel.

In Ireland, one million homes have the roof space and orientation suitable for the installation of up to ten solar panels, according to a study by MaREI, the Science Foundation Ireland Research Centre for Energy, Climate and Marine, based in University College Cork (UCC). This translates into 8 per cent of Ireland’s renewable energy target and could save each household approximately €450 in electricity costs per year.

Ireland may have more than its fair share of cloudy days, but the reality is that solar generation will play a big role in reducing emissions for countless households. By taking advantage of unused roof space on sheds, farmers can incorporate a new revenue stream by selling excess generation to the grid. This is a win-win investment.

In addition, with Ireland’s large agriculture sector, we have the highest potential to exploit biogas in the EU. Across Europe, government actions are driving the development of the industry but Ireland remains behind other EU countries in utilising this technology, with approximately only 20 anaerobic digestion plants currently in operation.

There is room for the renewables industry to grow almost across the board, yet planning and permitting procedures remain one of the biggest hurdles to achieving greater deployment of renewable technologies. This is a pivotal decade, and there should not be a situation where the EU fails to meet its renewables targets simply because of administration and bureaucracy.

I have made and supported proposals that would allow the granting of a priority status in national law for public interest renewable energy projects, as well as a corresponding streamlining of planning and permitting procedures.

Ireland may have more than its fair share of cloudy days, but the reality is that solar generation will play a big role in reducing emissions for countless households

Ensuring planning authorities and government departments have the resources they need to act with speed is the most basic of changes that must be implemented to actually get renewable technologies deployed.

Lastly, while investment is predominantly targeted towards renewable generation (and rightly so), the energy crisis demands a closer look at the short to medium term under a new lens. Putin has successfully weaponised energy supply, causing inflation to skyrocket and soaring energy prices for consumers, significantly affecting millions of EU citizens.

Article 194 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) states that energy is a shared responsibility between EU Member States and the EU. However, each Member State has the right to decide the conditions for exploiting its own energy resources, choose between different energy sources and decide the general structure of its energy supply.

At this critical juncture, Europe must look at its own domestic supply of natural gas, not just to ensure security of supply via diversification of liquefied natural gas (LNG) trading partners.

Energy is the lifeblood of any economy. Yet significant vulnerabilities in the current system have been exposed. Energy security goes hand-in-hand with EU resilience and should be considered through this lens going forward.

Therefore, while maintaining the path towards climate neutrality, the Commission should actively seek information from Member States relating to any disruption of energy projects that meet EU strategic interest requirements.