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Energy & Sustainability

Weekly Trend: European Commission’s International Energy Union Offers Cleantech Opportunities

No matter where you live, energy generation and consumption are chief concerns that affect all sectors of society. Energy production, until very recently, has been linked to non-renewable resources that are not available in all parts of the word: Namely, we have relied on oil and gas, which while abundant deep below some countries, are limited or non-existent in others.

Some countries have been willing to pay increasing prices for these commodities, but with the advent of other forms of energy and their increasing viability, it is possible to take a stand away from the traditional model. Such is the case in the European Commission’s statement in late February.

“For too long, energy has been exempt from the fundamental freedoms of our Union. Current events show the stakes – as many Europeans fear they may not have the energy needed to heat their homes,” Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, son the subject of European energy policy last month. “This is about Europe acting together, for the long term. I want the energy that underpins our economy to be resilient, reliable, secure and growingly renewable and sustainable.”

Juncker pledged to become more environmentally friendly, more energy efficient and more transparent, emphasizing lower carbon emissions and a focus on energy flowing like a “fifth freedom” to all Europeans. The vision is clear: a Europe that pools its energy resources stands united and stronger. The response is arises partly arising from mounting tensions with Russia, which while not a member of the European Union, is the main exporter of petroleum products, oil, and natural gas to Europe.

The European Commission’s plan includes a market redesign that emphasizes better trade between member countries; more encouragement to use and finance renewable resources; better energy storage; possible increase in national taxes, according to each member country’s needs and discretion; and a specific focus on the de-carbonization of the European Union especially through the use of dedicated funds and education.

Last week, the Commission announced it would also dedicate €100 million toward integrating European energy networks. Finally, the Commission also announced this week it would forge a partnership with Turkey. Turkey would become a key transit country, transporting natural gas to western and southern parts of Europe from sources near Azerbaijan through the future Trans Anatolian Pipeline.

The call to action, while admirable, is not without challenges. Although the European Community has various renewable sources of energy, which in theory could decrease or altogether help do away with the dependence on oil and natural gas, they may not be sufficient to serve the needs of a growing population. In a recent piece on The Parliament magazine, the ECR group spokesperson on energy, Marek Gróbarczyk, stated that the strategies set forth by the EC President are disappointing, “because I fear they offer a virtual energy union that is not adequate to meet our growing challenges.”

Similarly, The Guardian provides background and insight on some of the major problems ahead: Supply will not distributed evenly across the European Union, nor will that distribution be seamless. While there are coal reserves in central Europe, as well as eolic and solar farms in the southern regions and hydroelectric power in the northern countries, these systems all depend on their own country’s grid and therefore on the existing infrastructure as well. Much work will be necessary to integrate these grids to connect to one another; this is a great opportunity for investors and startups, but it requires an extended timeline—perhaps even beyond the 2020 goal set by the European Commission itself.

Maria Helena Carey

Maria Helena Carey is a freelance writer, photojournalist and blogger in Washington, D.C.