Can Real Teeth be Given to a Euro Paper Tiger?

The EU’s proposals to promote renewable energy are bereft of any effective compliance mechanisms, but amendments need to be made to correct this problem. That is the message I spell in a report being published by the World Future Council.

In January the European Commission published proposals for a Renewables Directive that aims for 20 percent of EU final energy to come from renewable energy sources by 2020. This represents an increase of 11.5 percent on the 2005 proportion. Different countries are being set different ‘binding’ targets according to their relative economic positions. In fact the ‘binding’ nature of the targets seems to be more spiritual than actual, and the measure seems to be a PR-glossed version of an ‘indicative’ target. Background briefings by senior Commission officials suggested that no serious attempt will be made to fine states who fall short of the targets, except maybe near the end of the 2020 period for member states engaged in the most serious renewable neglect.

A big row preceded the publication of the draft Directive over proposals for ‘trading’ in virtual green electricity certificates. States could buy contributions to their national renewable targets by paying renewable generators in another member state for certificates of ‘guaranteed origin’ (GO). In the end the idea was limited to states who are already achieving their targets. Since the only states that vigorously objected to such trading were those that are heading (on current trends) to more or less achieve their targets, such as Spain and Germany, it seems like the idea is a dead duck – for the time being at least. Certificate trading is promoted by big electricity majors who do not like the fact that the majority of renewable projects in Europe are developed by independent companies. A certificate system would be controlled by the majors who could thus cut down on the competition, which is in fact fostered by the much cheaper fixed tariff ‘feed-in tariff’ systems used by Germany, Spain and others.

The renewable energy interest groups therefore breathed a sigh of relief when the actual proposals had toned down the certificate ‘trading.’ However, attention has been taken away from the serious lack of compliance in the proposals. What is needed is action, from the start, by the Commission to ensure that member states are taking all reasonable measures to pursue their targets. Currently many states are not very serious, which is one reason why the discussion over proposals for trading in green certificates was so ludicrous.

Attention should be focused on amending the draft legislation so that the European Commission has a duty to reject inadequate national action plans (NAPs), and so that there is a public consultation about these NAPs in member states. NAPs need to contain proposals to do all that is reasonable to achieve their targets. This includes well designed support systems for the full range of renewable technologies (feed-in tariffs being the best vehicle); plans to ensure early determination of planning applications for renewable developments; plans for developing appropriate transmission, distribution- and demand-side management techniques, and also changes to building regulations to ensure minimum levels of on-site renewable generation.

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Dr David Toke is Senior Lecturer in Energy Policy in the Department of Political Science and International Studies in the University of Birmingham (UK). He was a key player in the campaign to establish feed-in tariffs for small renewable projects in the UK, the legislation for which was passed in 2008. His latest academic book is called "Ecological Modernisation and Renewable Energy," published in March 2011 by Palgrave. He has published many papers in leading academic journals on environmental, especially energy (and renewable energy) issues and he writes a ‘green energy’ blog at

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