Renewables and innovation are key to decarbonising Europe with homegrown green energy

By Kadri Simson, European Commissioner for Energy (pictured)
Summer 2024

Kadri Simson, European Commissioner for EnergyIt is over two years since Russia started its unjustified war against Ukraine. Yet Ukraine has proven to be courageous, resilient and determined in its response. Europe continues to stand by Ukraine and the Ukrainian people. At the same time, the war exposed Europe's dependency on Russian energy and the risk this meant for the security of our energy supply. Before the war around 45% of Europe's gas, almost half of its oil imports and nearly onethird of its coal came from Russia.

A steady supply of energy is vital for the well-being of any economy. Any disruption to that could have a devastating effect. Energy trade with Russia seemed strong and hard to unravel and it appeared unlikely that the status quo would change. There were long-term commitments, infrastructure that had taken years to build and seemingly few alternatives to cater for Europe’s energy needs.

The EU proved the doubters wrong. With speed, unity and determination, the EU committed to cutting its energy dependency on Russia by diversifying energy supplies away from Russia while saving energy and accelerating Europe's clean energy transition. The initiatives build on the European Green Deal, the EU's pledge to reach climate-neutrality by 2050.

In the two years that has followed, the EU has achieved a paradigm shift. The EU dramatically reduced imports of Russian coal, oil and gas, while reaching record gas storage levels, using less energy and using it more efficiently.

Thus, Europe got through two successive winters, keeping our lights on and our homes warm, with no energy shortages, and we are already well-prepared ahead of next winter.

The EU's increased rollout of renewable energy on an unprecedented scale is testament to that. We accelerated pending legislation and introduced new rules to make it faster and easier to invest in renewables and easier for households to produce their own energy, such as through solar panels. We are already seeing its positive impact. In 2021, 39% of the EU's electricity came from renewables and 36% from fossil fuels. In 2023, 45% came from renewables and 28% from fossil fuels. This trend will undoubtedly continue in the years ahead.

Not only is wind and solar energy being installed at a record scale, Europe also has the largest pipeline of green hydrogen projects in the world, and the surge in biomethane production will bring new opportunities to decarbonise our industry.

For example, we are already seeing new cutting-edge technologies like floating offshore wind power, and a new alliance is gathering dozens of promising next generation projects on small modular nuclear reactors. Planning and construction to expand electricity grids is also underway to accommodate more renewables across Europe. European companies and citizens will thus enjoy the freedom to buy green energy when they want, where they want it and in the volumes required.

Indeed, the success of renewables in Europe depends on the innovation and resources underpinning it. The European Commission has provided steer and funding for European research and innovation for decades. Our funding contributed to breakthroughs in renewable energy as early as the 1990s. This resulted in the emergence of major new industrial sectors in Europe and globally.

The EU is committed to continue investing in its world-class clean tech sector and increase its competitive edge. Innovation has played a key role in order to decarbonise Europe's energy system and society as a whole. It will continue to do so in the years to come.

The EU has just adopted a Net Zero Industry Act with measures right across the supply chain to strengthen this valuable sector in the face of fierce international competition and high energy prices. By streamlining permitting processes and accelerating access to market for net-zero technologies; by fostering innovation with regulatory sandboxes to test new technologies.

In parallel, a new Critical Raw Materials Act should ensure secure supply of critical raw materials to power electrification, while ensuring sustainability and core rights of exporting countries are respected.

For a continent with limited fossil resources, clean energy is the road to energy autonomy and global competitiveness. Investment in clean tech innovation will help Europe reach our net-zero goal of the Green Deal and to mitigate the risks of new dependencies.

The EU has put the consumers in the centre of the transition with increased opportunities, rights and advantages. The revised energy market design enables consumers to conclude more than one electricity supply contract or energy sharing agreement, for the same connection point for their homes.

They can also share with friends, families, neighbours, the electricity they produce directly or collectively. This means, for example, that low-income families living in social housing could benefit from renewable energy from the solar panels on public buildings.

In addition, there is a steady increase in charging points and fuelling stations for electric or hydrogenpowered vehicles on major roads, in our homes and neighbourhoods.

During this political mandate, Europe has redrawn its energy map and re-powered its energy policy. At the same time, we have continued to support Ukraine, and will continue to do so, for as long as it is needed. By trying to choke us with our fossil fuel dependency, Russia inadvertently accelerated our green transition. Meanwhile, Europe has stabilised the energy market. Since 2022, we have decreased our energy import bill, and prices are back around pre-war levels. Europe will never again be vulnerable to energy blackmail by Russia, or any other State.

Together, the EU and its Member states turned a historic threat into an equally historic opportunity. These foundations are our legacy and the basis for our work ahead.