Policycast: How can solar’s success continue into the next EU mandate?

In our new podcast series, we talk to Members of European Parliament about their journey in energy and climate policymaking over the last 4 years, and their journey through the European Green Deal. What is their vision for solar ? What role can Parliament play? Why is it important to vote in the European elections?

In this special episode of Shine On Policycast in the lead up to the EU elections 2024, our Policy Director Dries Acke visits the European Parliament in Brussels for a sit down chat with MEP Nicolas Casares. Mr Casares has played a key role in progressing renewables during his time in office, working on key files such as the REPowerEU package and the Renewable Energy Directive (RED). 

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Episode transcript

[00:00:00.170] - Dries 

Good afternoon. Good afternoon, Mr. Casares, it's a true honour to have you at our Policycast for the European elections. I'm really proud to have you here as one of our guests. Maybe you can say something about yourself in terms of where you come from? 


[00:00:15.970] - MEP Nicolás González Casares 

I'm a Spanish socialist, MEP, coming from a region of the northwest of Spain, that is Galicia, windy region, not very solar, but we also have some power in our region. Thank you. Thank you for this invitation to SolarPower Europe, and this reflection before the European elections. 


[00:00:36.250] - Dries 

And we should congratulate you and thank you for the great work of the last years. It's been quite a ride delivering that 2030 package Fit for 55. Add to that REPowerEU. So can you just describe shortly, how has the experience been? How do you describe the rides that you have been on for the last years? 


[00:00:56.690] - MEP Nicolás González Casares 

It was a very hard time. I mean, at the beginning of this term, we had an ambitious Green Deal. We had at the very beginning the launch of the Climate Law, but then we fell into the pandemic, and pandemic was very hard for all the people in Europe, not only for the European Parliament and the European institutions. I think we have worked very hard in order to save the Green Deal by the time of the pandemic, but also to put solutions for the pandemic, and also how to accelerate the ecological transition. And secondly, the same happened with the impacts of Russian aggression to Ukraine that put the prices of the energy in tension with the skyrocketing prices in the wholesale market for electricity, for example. Our response, our European response was to accelerate the deployment of renewables to be more efficient. And we have the REPowerEU, the reform of the European, the market design of electricity, and new provisions to protect consumers. So, in conclusion, I think it was an amazing term for the energy transition, with very difficult moments, with a great challenge. But at the end, we can maintain and even accelerate our ambition for this decarbonisation to happen. 


[00:02:38.840] - Dries 

Absolutely. It was truly impressive because we had multiple crises, but every time the crisis was taken as an opportunity to actually accelerate. 


[00:02:48.230] - MEP Nicolás González Casares 

It's true that we used to say that Europe starts with crises, and crises accelerate Europe. Maybe it's true, but these last years were very hard on that, and it was a test for the whole Europe. 


[00:03:05.790] - Dries 

Absolutely, yeah. Of course, one thing concretely that stood out in your time here at the European Parliament is the Renewable Energy Directive. It's been a momentous achievement of the European Union to lend those ambitious 2030 targets. Tell us a little bit like, what are you mostly proud of in those negotiations. And maybe, what would you say? Did you deliver for solar? 


[00:03:28.530] - MEP Nicolás González Casares 

First, I have to say that I am proud of the Renewable Energy Directive of this revision. In general, it was a privilege to have the opportunity to work on this Renewable Energy Directive. It was supposed to be RED III, but it was RED III, RED IV, and RED V at the same time. But first, I want to mention that we have managed to maintain, to preserve the integrity of the Renewable Energy Directive. What does this mean? It means that we avoided other kind of energy sources that was not renewable. For example, there were some attempts to include, for example, fossil fuels into the Renewable Energy Directive, and other sources of energy. Sothere was a serious risk of nonrenewable sources being included in the RED. We managed to avoid that, and it would have had a very negative impact. This could have happened in the past, but we managed to avoid it. And secondly, I was also proud of the article of public participation. I think we have a problem in Europe with the public opinion and the big deployment of renewables. We need to increase as fast as possible the share of renewables into our energy mix. And the way I look at it, this is work with the people. So public participation, also mapping procedures, acceleration areas, and how the local communities can be engaged in the energy transition, was very important to me, because I can feel this also in my region. So I'm very proud of this article, and I think I'm proud also of the market reform, how we protect consumers regarding solar. Okay, I mean, for solar, it's very important first that we increase the target. And it's important, of course, for solar, because the fastest way of installing renewables is solar. It's not working for every place in Europe, but of course, the big deployment of energy sources, renewable energy sources should be based in the solar deployment. So, this target of 42.5, or the best target, that is 45%, I think is good news for the solar. And then in the electricity market reform, we have other points, probably we will discuss them in the next questions. But let me say that in this design, we include the right to share energy and how also to engage the self consumption, that is mostly solar in Europe. 


[00:06:38.690] - Dries 

Absolutely, indeed, and we agree with that. Solar really needs to be deployed responsibly, with engagements from the local communities. Certainly, if you look at the years ahead, the further acceleration that we need to see in Europe will make the energy transition even more visible, even more present around. So can you tell us a little bit about maybe your own constituency, as you were alluding to? Are there examples of conversations that you had with people on the ground that really motivated you to make sure that these elements are in the European legislation? 


[00:07:14.270] - MEP Nicolás González Casares 

Yes, there is a public controversy regarding the deployment of renewables. It's true that it's happening in Europe, and when the people say that administrative procedures are very slow, it is linked to the public opposition in some areas or in some regions. It's not because the public administration doesn't want to work to give this permission. The problem is that there are people opposite to that. And I think behind this is the lack of engagement. If we give public participation, if we give to these local communities opportunities to take advantage of this energy that is affordable, I don't want to say cheap, but it's affordable and it's local, we can engage all these people in this energy transition. So, in my constituency, I can feel this not only for solar, also for wind, that we manage to work with the people at a local level. We offer them the possibility to participate. We have also an important rate of cell consumption in Spain that is growing every and every day, and every year. Breaking records also these days in February, we are breaking records of solar power production in Spain. I think this shows to the citizens that this energy transition not only works, but also works for the people and works also for the planet, because we are fighting against climate change that now is a very important problem in Spain. We are suffering very important drought in the east of Spain. The lack of rain is one of the main problems, so they can feel how climate change is affecting our lives. So it's time to act, really it's time to act, and solar is one of the main solutions to do that. 


[00:09:22.880] - Dries 

Absolutely. You talked about energy sharing indeed, in the market design file, because this is also the way we see it, like solar is a technology, par excellence, as they say in French, that can connect people to the energy transition, to the bigger picture as well. But for that, of course, the self consumption is important. And if we then add with the energy sharing also ability to do collective self consumption, that is certainly a step in the right direction. 


[00:09:49.210] - MEP Nicolás González Casares 

I think that the energy sharing is one step forward for not only self consumption. We are opening more doors. We tried during the electricity market design reform to make it happen, but carefully, because I don't want to say restrict, but we want to take some control of what is really happening in this energy saving. But of course, we are opening new doors for people to participate, to decentralise the energy system, to give more opportunity to consumers that we are talking about prosumers, and give also SMEs new opportunities to produce their own energy. And also to share, for example, with their employees. There is a possibility for me to produce my energy at my home and share my energy with a neighbour or with a friend or with a family. So, we have opened a lot of doors, but we need also to deploy more grids. That is important because if we decentralise, we need more ways to connect one place with others to increase the solution for distribution. But in any case, I think this is a good opportunity for the deployment of solar power in Europe to democratise the energy system, the electricity system with more solar, and to integrate also this solar production, or domestic solar production, with other possibilities of flexibility, not only in the market, also in our homes, with our cars, with our heat pumps, with our batteries. We have different solutions to integrate also the solar power at a consumer level. 


[00:11:40.160] - Dries 

Absolutely. And that's the vision for the energy system. Certainly, for 2030, that's going to be important. And it's great that we have landed the 2030 package in the last weeks and months. Of course, before you know it, we are turning the page, and we're talking about 2040. It is actually quite impressive how the European Commission continues to be that forward looking, one great think tank in a way, and helps giving the investment certainty for the next decades. So having looked at the 2040 communication, what are your main takeaways? What's your first assessment of those documents? 


[00:12:20.360] - MEP Nicolás González Casares 

I'm very happy of this 2040 communication from the Commission, because when we were working on the Climate Law at the European Parliament, we were the first one putting an amendment that Commission should put this provision of 2040 target. At the end, it was in the Climate Law. So, for me it's also a success from the side of the people that are working also with me. But first, I think that we need to ensure from the Parliament that there is a correct transposition at member states of the Fit for 55. First, before going to the 2040 target, we should ensure that the Fit for 55 is going to happen and is really happening in the member states. For example, include this mapping of the acceleration areas of renewable, the introduction of new role, new rules for the simplification of the permitting, that is very important for acceleration of renewables. The transposition of the new instruments to promote renewable energy in sectors such as buildings, I think it is very important. Transport and industry. We think that before going for this target of 2040, I think that the reform of the governance regulation is critical, it's crucial. I think it needs to be updated to the fit for 55 targets. This objective of, if you ask me about the 90%, I completely agree with this 90%, but let's see what happens. We need more electrification. We have to increase the electrification of our energy system from the current 25% to the 50% by 2030. And also the electrical sector will be decarbonized by 2040, with its target of 90% should be almost decarbonized by 2040. So we have to run faster, but let me say one thing very important, we need to increase the electric demand. It's very important nowadays, because to make renewables profitable, we need to increase the expenditure of electricity. We need to increase this demand, not increase the demand, because we need to waste. It's not the right way to do it. We need efficiency, but we have to increase the demand in the transport mainly, or also in the building sector. I think this is also one of the duties for the next years, taking into account that I'm coming from the Iberian Peninsula, and we have a lack of interconnection. We have less than 5% of interconnection, and the assisting target is 15%. I think we are lagging behind. We need more grids, more interconnectors in Europe in order to make this transition happens. 


[00:15:33.210] - Dries 

Absolutely. Maybe just to pick up on one thing that you said, one important part of the 2040 debate is actually delivering the 2030 targets. 


[00:15:42.760] - MEP Nicolás González Casares 

Yes, without 2030 target, without complying with the 2030 target, it will be impossible. 


[00:15:50.750] - Dries 

What would you say, do you perceive as the role of the next European Parliament in that endeavour? Like, what can be the role of the European Parliament as representatives of the people at home in constituencies, to help lend some of these provisions that we agreed on in the last year. How can you represent it, how you can ensure and accelerate that? 


[00:16:11.640] - MEP Nicolás González Casares 

First, we made a lot of legislation in this mandate, and I think now we have to ensure that all this legislation that we put in place is going to happen at a member state level. So I think that we have to create, with the Commission and Parliament, a way to correct, and check, what is really happening at every member state. And I think the Parliament is one of the key institutions to check if member states are really complying with these targets. It's one of the duties for the next term for the MEPs, not only to produce legislation, also to save where legislation is scarily transposed to the national legislation. 


[00:17:04.560] - Dries 

Absolutely. And there's, of course, the known formal procedures to ensure implementation and transposition of the European law. But would you say that the European Parliament should have other powers, other governance structures?  


[00:17:21.310] - MEP Nicolás González Casares 

In the parliament, we have the opportunity to raise our voice and say this is not really happening, what is happening at this state level, why some countries are lagging behind of this target. So I think it will be very important to raise our voice in the next year and say, okay, we are making legislation, but the legislation is not working for something that is empty. We need also results at a member state level, and there are ways to ensure that, because we have the tools in the Parliament, and also the Commission has the tools to check this. But we have to force the Parliament, to force these member states, and that the system legislation, that the RED is happening at the member states level. 


[00:18:12.770] - Dries 

Absolutely, yeah. Fantastic. Well, thank you very much for your vision and for your comments on the past and the forward look. Maybe I do want to close with one particular question, because we also want, of course, to take the opportunity to hear from you, from the members of the European Parliament. What would you advise us to do better as a solar sector? How can we make it easier for you to support and defence solar? 


[00:18:39.640] - MEP Nicolás González Casares 

I think the solar sector has a great opportunity in these years, in the next decade and even until 2040, probably beyond. We need to increase the pace of installation of solar panels in every part in Europe, not only in the sunny places as Spain or the Iberian Peninsula, or Italy or Greece. In Germany, it's possible to produce a high amount of solar power. So it's a big opportunity for all Europe, and we need also to increase the skills of the people. So the solar sector should work also with national authorities at the European level to promote that. This is an attractive sector for professionals. I think it's very important. And secondly, I want to mention one thing. We need more solar panels made in Europe. We live in times that the supply chain is global, it's true. But what is really happening now is we are importing a lot of solar panels and mainly for only one country. So we have to diversify our suppliers, but also think about producing them in Europe, I think it's very important. And finally, something I want to share for the next year, for the next campaign. I think that people that really believe in the energy transition should realise that they have to vote for Europe. So please vote, vote in the next European elections, vote for a greener Europe, and vote against climate deniers. I mean, there are parties we want to ensure the energy transition. We should trust people that are not climate deniers, that really believe that the climate change is anthropogenic, they are willing to act against climate change, and act to phase out fossil fuels. So I really believe that people engaged in the deployment of renewables, in the fight against climate change for success, decarbonization of our energy system, have to vote for these parties or these people that really believe that we have to act for the people, for the planet, but also for our European economy, because we don't have fossil fuels. 


[00:21:24.890] - Dries 

Absolutely. Well, thank you for putting it so eloquently. Solar electrification and fossil free energy. Let's vote for that. 


[00:21:31.630] - MEP Nicolás González Casares 

Okay, thank you. Let's vote for that, please. 


[00:21:34.570] - Dries 

Thank you, Mr. Casares. And best of luck with any potential future elections. 


[00:21:39.040] - MEP Nicolás González Casares 

Okay, any potential is the right way to think. 

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