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Inside the European Union’s aggressive 20-20-20 renewable energy goals

by Center for Resource Solutions. Published Wed 13 Apr 2011 00:20

by Jennifer Martin

With the lack of progress of a comprehensive federal renewable energy policy at the U.S. Capitol, it was heartening to hear about real progress being made in Europe during my recent trip to Brussels at the end of March. As a speaker at the RECS International Market Meeting, I had the opportunity to interact with companies, organizations, and government representatives who gathered together to discuss the state of European renewable energy policies and markets.

The European Union (E.U.) has adopted aggressive climate and energy goals—the “20-20-20” targets—which aim by 2020 to:

• Reduce EU greenhouse gas emissions at least 20% below 1990 levels
• Derive 20% of EU energy consumption from renewable resources
• Create a 20% reduction in primary energy use compared with projected levels through improving energy efficiency.

The second bullet, the renewable energy target, applies to all energy use including transportation and heating fuels, not just electricity. If targets are met, renewable electricity will supply over 30% of Europe’s electricity by 2020. Although more than half of U.S. states have adopted renewable portfolio standards, currently California is the only state that comes close to reaching this level of increased renewable electricity generation by 2020 (see dsireusa.org for a state-by-state breakdown of these standards).

While the E.U. will derive an impressive level of its electricity supply from renewable energy in 2020 because of these government mandates, it is struggling with developing an effective voluntary market for renewable energy to complement these government efforts. There are several challenges facing the development of a vibrant voluntary market in the E.U—the region lacks a single, uniform approach to documenting and tracking renewable environmental benefits, and purchasing renewable energy comes without the ability to make greenhouse gas emission reduction claims. In some E.U. countries there is more than one system by which to document renewable energy ownership, making it difficult to ensure no double counting.

Despite the U.S.’s lack of progress on a national renewable energy policy, the U.S. has succeeded organizing a well-functioning voluntary market. Each consumer and organization in the US has the option to push overall renewable energy use beyond what is required by state (or future federal) renewable mandates by participating in the voluntary renewable energy market. Since 2004 more renewable electricity from new facilities has been purchased by voluntary purchasers than contributed to all state-level RPS programs combined (see Green Power Marketing in the United States: A Status Report, p.10).

Why has the U.S. voluntary market been so successful compared to Europe? There are a few reasons, but top among them is that we have developed a national framework for claims and ownership of renewable energy attributes that allows a voluntary purchaser to be assured that their purchased is not also being double claimed by a government program or any other party, and that the renewable energy is above and beyond that required for any government mandate. Many individuals and businesses in Europe are interested in supporting renewable energy if programs are available that support strong environmental claims. While there are a variety of country-specific programs and labels across Europe aimed at driving new renewables, there is yet to develop an E.U.-wide market for voluntary purchasers that offers the same guarantees of environmental benefits and no double claims that has developed in the U.S. Ongoing work by many of the organizations at the meeting in Brussels, and cooperation with green power programs, including those in the U.S., may lead to increased clarity and options for European renewable energy purchasers.

Jennifer Martin is executive director of Center for Resource Solutions. Contact her at jennifer@resource-solutions.org.


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