Preparing the ground for a solarised Europe

By Alexandre Roesch, Policy Director at SolarPower Europe

December 2016

Some may say it’s a Christmas tree, but the Winter Package released yesterday by the European Commission is arguably the most ambitious reform in the energy sector over the last decade.

It basically prepares the ground for a European power system in which renewables cover 50% or more of our demand, all that in less than 15 years. To go there, it is critical to identify which levers will make the difference.

To start with the (numerous) good news, the recognition that market rules – on the intraday and balancing markets – should be made compatible with variable solar generation has been translated into concrete legislative proposals. Importantly, all the enablers to achieve higher solar penetration levels – storage, demand response, aggregation – can now rely on a clear enabling framework.

If these reforms are needed to ensure that solar electricity can be better integrated and valorised on the market, creating the right conditions to invest in solar is crucial too.

The revised Renewable Energy Directive is precisely doing that. Very much in line with our own policy asks, it establishes for the first time a legally binding European framework for renewable self-generation and consumption. It introduces an obligation for Member States to provide visibility on support mechanisms over the 3 coming years, which is key for efficient tendering procedures. It creates mandatory one-stop shops for permit granting, with a time limit. It requires new buildings and buildings undergoing a major renovation to incorporate minimum shares of renewables. And, to avoid what our sector, unfortunately, experienced over the last years, it stipulates an “anti-retroactivity clause” to ensure the stability of financial support.

Not everything is perfect of course. The Commission’s attempt to limit the recourse to capacity mechanisms is not ambitious enough. While we welcome the introduction – at the last minute – of an emission eligibility criteria to stop coal from benefiting from such mechanisms, we need a more coherent strategy to reduce the level of inflexible generation and the overcapacity in the European energy mix. Until such inflexible generation remains online, new renewable capacities will face an increased risk of curtailment and therefore would need – contrary to what is proposed by the Commission – to continue benefiting from priority access. This is key to avoid that the cheapest and cleanest electricity is cut simply because inflexible plants are…inflexible.

Finally, we need to look back at what was achieved in the renewable and solar sectors over the last 15 years. An honest assessment can then only lead to the conclusion that the 27% RES target by 2030 is nonsense. If the measures presented in this package are used to their full extent, we can be much more ambitious and, why not, even think of becoming the world number one in renewables.

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