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Annual conference 2008

'How can the EU meet
its 2020 renewables targets?'

  conf_londonMonday November, 3 2008
The Royal Academy of Engineering

Executive Summary

The following is a summary of the key messages delivered at the 2008 Euro-CASE annual conference.


In December 2008, the EU adopted its 20:20:20 package— an ambitious plan to dramatically reduce its carbon output by 20% over the coming decade. It is important both for the global struggle to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and Europe’s position at the forefront of these efforts that this package is successful.
One of the most far reaching elements of the package is the commitment to meet 20% of Europe’s total energy needs from renewable sources by 2020. In order to achieve this goal, each EU member state has been allocated its own binding target for renewable energy by 2020. These targets are intended to be challenging, both for member states who have not yet invested heavily in renewable energy, and for those where renewables already play a large part in the national energy mix.

Policy Recommendations

If the 2020 renewables targets are to be met, member states should immediately take action to create a level playing field for all energy sources. This can be done by pricing in the externalities of CO2 emissions, removing regulatory barriers to low carbon energy sources, and dismantling fossil fuel subsidies.
Planning and incentives regimes need to be simplified. Governments should devote particular attention to adapting planning and administrative procedures to new energy sources, including developing ‘one stop shops’ for planning and licensing. Targeted transitional incentives should be used to promote faster innovation in energy technologies. The lack of appropriate EU and national incentives in several key areas, including heating and cooling from renewable sources, needs to be addressed.
Once a fair incentive framework is in place, the power of the market should be harnessed to deliver favourable outcomes. The best way to achieve this is to set clear, stable and predictable rules, with penalties for non-compliance. The greatest obstacle to achieving these targets is a lack of political will. Tough decisions will be needed, particularly in reconciling environmental and economic imperatives, and in balancing climate change mitigation needs with local ecological concerns. While politicians are keen to appear in favour of renewable energy, they are not yet preparing the public for the difficult choices that will have to be made.

Priorities for Investment

To ensure that the most appropriate policies are put in place, increased engineering input is needed at every stage of European and national energy policy development. If Europe is to profit from a new generation of green jobs, more investment is also needed in engineering education, particularly in the niche skills necessary for renewable energy generation.
While the 2020 targets can be reached using currently available infrastructure and technology, fundamental technological and structural change is needed if Europe is to meet even more ambitious targets of halving total greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Research is particularly required in the area of storage technologies and grid adaptation. Ways must be found to aggregate public and private research on strategic energy needs carried out across the EU, either through increased co-ordination at EU level or the development of novel policy vehicles like the UK’s Energy Technology Institute.
A European Energy Grid is no longer a speculative aspiration but an achievable goal. If Europe is to have a grid in place by 2050, work needs to begin now on a range associated political, regulatory and engineering issues. In the shorter term, governments should develop principles of systems thinking about national energy infrastructures, and their pan-European dependencies.
Carbon savings from increased deployment of renewables will only achieve their desired impact if they are complemented by strong investment in demand reduction policies and technologies. Greater political priority must be given to the binding energy efficiency targets set out in the 20:20:20 legislation.

A breakdown of the key priorities across the major renewable energy technologies now follows.

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