- 18 July 2014
The Climate Group interviews Dominique Ristori, Director General for Energy at the European Commission, about how Europe is developing sustainable cities to prepare for fast-growing populations - and if he expects the Commission’s proposals for the 2030 Climate and Energy Framework to be accepted in October, since the EU delayed a decision earlier in the year.
Despite this political uncertainty, Europe's renewables markets are soaring. Low carbon energy was estimated to have contributed 14.1% of the bloc's gross final energy consumption in 2012, compared with just 8.3% in 2004. European people too, have overwhelmingly expressed their support for greater EU action on climate change according to a poll, which said 80% of Europeans agree greater energy efficiency would boost economy and employment.
- Prior to acting as Director General for Energy and Transport, you led the Joint Research Centre (JRC). How important a role does research play in developing Europe’s energy strategy?
Dominiqe Ristori: As you can imagine, research is an important aspect of energy policy. This is particularly true at a time when we need to decrease our energy dependence and to shift to a competitive low carbon economy. Innovation and new technologies are part of the solution in order to stay competitive, propose affordable energy for consumers and companies and promote security of energy supply.
We need to develop and bring into the market new, more efficient and responsive technologies, and adapt the current energy system. I am glad to tell you that the EU has almost doubled the budget for Energy Research & Innovation in Horizon 2020, now offering 5.5 billion Euros for projects on secure, clean and efficient energy. These include key strategic projects on smart grids and energy storage.
In May 2013, the EU Commission adopted a Communication on energy technology and innovation. The aim is to encourage the development of an Integrated Roadmap that addresses the energy system as a whole with measures along the entire innovation chain by the Strategic Energy Technology (SET) Plan stakeholders. It also addressed the design of Action Plans with Member States. The objective is to ensure that R&I efforts are not only aimed at the development of individual technologies but that they respond to the needs of the energy system as a whole.
- How optimistic are you that the Commission’s proposals for the 2030 Climate and Energy Framework will be accepted in October by the Council?
We will do all efforts in view to reach an agreement by October. Indeed the March European Council was a major step forward with Member States agreeing to take a final decision no later than October 2014 in the 2030 Climate and Energy Framework. The Framework will also strengthen our security of supply alongside increased sustainability and competitiveness. Given the current events, there is clearly a sense of urgency on the need to ensure full compatibility between our 2030 policy framework and the European Energy Security Strategy.
The Commission has also just received a clear political mandate for stepping up a gear in the energy field: energy is one of the five key priorities for the next five years in the strategic agenda agreed by the European Council of June. EU institutions and Member States are asked to “build an Energy Union aiming at affordable, secure and sustainable energy”. At the same time, the June European Council conclusions welcomed the Commission's European Energy Security Strategy.
- Is there a tension between national targets set by member states and the vision for the European Union as a whole? How do you reconcile these competing objectives, if so?
The 2030 Communication sets out the Commission's proposals for 2030 energy and climate targets and proposes a new governance scheme based on Member States' national plans to achieve a competitive, secure and sustainable energy system.
This new governance framework is meant to avoid tensions between Member States. It is more flexible for Member States. They define their own plans and make choices compatible with national preferences, while at the same time ensuring market integration, competition, cost-efficiency and attainment of the agreed 2030 objectives.
- By 2020 the EU hopes to have improved energy efficiency by 20%, but a target for 2030 has been postponed until the review of the Energy Efficiency Directive is concluded. From a personal perspective what do you feel would be an ambitious, but achievable target which the EU collectively could meet?
The EU is well on track to reach its 2020 targets, and it is currently getting closer to 18-19% of increased energy efficiency. If this trend continues, by 2030 energy efficiency will play a key role for the EU to reach a 40% GHG target cost-effectively. We are finalising a review of the Energy Efficiency Directive, which will reaffirm the importance of an energy efficient Europe to ensure growth, competitiveness and a reduction on import dependency, while ensuring progress towards a low carbon economy.
- With global urban populations forecast to grow significantly, what can European cities do to ensure that they meet the needs of their residents in a sustainable and cost effective way?
Energy is one of the biggest challenges facing Europe in the coming decades, and this particularly applies to urban areas which are the most congested and the most polluted areas. For the first time in history more than 50% of the world's population live in urban areas. By 2050, about 70% of people are likely to be city dwellers, compared with less than 30% in 1950. In the EU, two thirds of our population is already living in urban areas.
Investing in energy efficient and innovative solutions for cities is therefore crucial to ensure residents can have the opportunity to live in a sustainable and cost effective way.
One programme is the European Innovation Partnership on Smart Cities and Communities (EIP-SCC), which brings together cities, industry and citizens to improve urban life through more sustainable integrated solutions. The initiative has a holistic approach: it aims for applied innovation, better planning, a more participatory approach, higher energy efficiency, better transport solutions, and a more intelligent use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT).
Earlier this year we launched an 'Invitation for Commitment' (which closed on June 15 2014) asking interested parties about their activities and plans for sustainable and integrated solutions to improve urban life. We received more than 300 contributions. The high number shows that these topics touch peoples' lives directly. Developing partnerships and encouraging citizens' empowerment are the keys to invent sustainable and cost-effective solutions for tomorrow. I would like to underline the important role of municipalities and Convenant of Mayors to develop adequate strategies with the active participation of citizens.
The building sector also plays a key role, and history shows investments yield rewards: the introduction of energy efficient measures (e.g. better insulation) contributed to a significant decrease in the average energy consumption per dwelling: -11% in Ireland, -16% in Sweden, -27% in Denmark, around -35% in France and Netherlands, and around -50% for Germany and Slovakia between 1990 and 2009.
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By Alana Ryan