With its sparkling solar panels and majestic wind turbines, renewable energy is the visually striking symbol of the sustainable energy transition – and Europe is a world leader in its development. Back in 2008, EU countries agreed to an ambitious target of 20% renewable energy in the overall energy mix by 2020, giving the sector the EU-wide political impetus to soar. According to a European Commission report published in April this year, renewable energy in the EU is ready to achieve its goal.
Beyond 2020, the EU can look forward to reaching the next renewable energy target – 32% by 2030 with a possible upwards revision of the target by 2023, and the goal of a climate-neutral EU by 2050. While renewable energy is an essential tool in the box to wean society off its dependency on imported fossil fuels, it’s also achieving other key goals – cutting carbon emissions, improving our energy security, sparking innovation, creating growth and jobs and boosting local communities.
Local community spearheads the sustainable transition
In Saerbeck, Germany, a community project is demonstrating how renewable energy is driving the transition forward right down at the local level. Winner of an EU Sustainable Energy Award in the Consumers category section in 2018, Saerbeck is a 7,200-strong community that took an ambitious – and sustainable – step forward.
In 2008 Saerbeck decided to become self-sufficient in renewable energy by 2030 and to achieve this it set out more than 150 actions. Central to its aims was an abandoned munitions site that the commune transformed into a 29-megawatt renewable energy park featuring 7 wind turbines, a solar power station and 2 biomass plants fueled by local organic waste generated by residents. Space not occupied by renewable energy was converted into a biodiverse nature park.
Saerbeck also put other measures in place like installing solar panels on houses, creating an ‘energy experience’ trail to communicate to residents how renewable energy is produced and used, and special ‘renewable energy laboratories’ for children.
Overall, the project managed to reduce Saerbeck’s CO2 emissions from 9.6 tonnes in 2010 to 5.5 tonnes by 2014, with further falls in emissions expected once planned energy efficiency and energy storage measures come online. The commune is also looking forward to launching an electric mobility scheme on its path to self-sufficiency.
Speaking about the impact of winning an EU Sustainable Energy Award last year, project leader Guido Wallraven said: “Local people were very proud of our achievements when we came back to Saerbeck with our award. It gave what we are doing great recognition.” Since 2018, the commune has expanded its e-mobility scheme with electric car charging points and an electric car sharing scheme. Now, Saerbeck is looking to develop hydrogen production facilities powered by the commune’s excess renewable energy to further expand its electric mobility schemes.
Vision for a carbon-neutral Europe
Communities like Saerbeck are successfully embracing renewable energy across Europe. Together, they are helping the EU to fulfill its vision for a transition from today’s energy system still largely based on fossil fuels, to a carbon-neutral Europe with an electrified and fully decarbonised energy supply by 2050.
In 2018, the European Commission published its Clean Planet for All document which states it aims to maximise the roll-out of renewables. This can be done using established technologies that are benefitting from significant falls in costs like wind and solar power, but also up-and-coming technologies like wave and tidal power.
Each EU country is now working on national energy and climate plans for 2021-2030 which will encourage further investment in renewable energy on the road to the 2050 goal. The plans are designed to meet EU targets including the binding target of at least 32% renewables by 2030, an energy efficiency target of at least 32.5%, and an electricity interconnection target of 15%. With policies to achieve these targets in place, the Commission expects carbon emissions to decline by 45% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels – putting the EU well on the path to achieving the climate goals set at the UN summit in Paris in 2016.
The progress made towards these goals and building renewables-led energy system will be among the topics debated at EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW), the much-anticipated, annual event that brings together energy sector stakeholders. During EUSEW a 3-day long policy conference attracts energy specialists and practitioners through a wide variety of sessions, including:
- Life after the clean energy package: unleashing the power of renewable energy for citizens and communities
- Decarbonisation at least cost: renewables beyond support
- Transitioning towards 100% renewables and the role of system flexibility
- Launch event: REN21 Renewables Global Status Report 2019
- Power systems with a high share of renewables: vision and innovation
- Challenges in pathways towards 100% renewable energy system
- Ocean Energy for a 100% decarbonised energy system - integrating ocean energy
During the opening session of the EUSEW Policy Conference on Tuesday 18 June, the winners of the EU Sustainable Energy Awards 2019 will be unveiled. The 12 finalists are competing across 4 award categories: Engagement, Leadership, Innovation and Youth. Interested in learning more about the projects up for awards this year? Watch the finalists’ videos. You can also have your say by voting for your favourite project in the 2019 Citizens’ Award!