Energy transition can’t wait any longer

Energy transition can’t wait any longer

Interview with Giulio Volpi renewable energy expert at European Commission 

How will a single electricity system be organised in the Energy Union? What level of development will renewables have?

The European Commission is promoting the creation of a continent-wide integrated energy system that lets energy flows pass freely across borders and that is based on competition and optimal use of resources. Moreover, the Energy Union should also encourage an economy that is sustainable, low carbon and that respects our climate, one that is designed to last over time.

Moving to a more secure and sustainable energy system will require large investments in low carbon generation, in networks and in energy efficiency. Specifically, the European Union wants to maintain its global leadership in the renewable energy sector. To this end, European heads of state have agreed on a minimum target of getting 27% of our energy from renewable sources in 2030. This is a significant effort because renewables currently cover 15% of our final energy consumption.

How is the EU’s approach to energy changing? To what extent is the European Commission really pushing for a paradigm shift? And how strong are the pressures exerted by the oil lobby (see the case of Shell)?

The creation of a real Energy Union will require a drastic transformation of the European energy system. We need to distance ourselves from an economy that is based on fossil fuels, with centralised energy management focused on demand, that relies upon obsolete technologies and is based on out-dated economic models. We also need to go beyond the current fragmented system where we suffer from market barriers, a lack of co-ordination of national energy policies and geographical areas that remain isolated in energy terms.

The European Union is already on track to reach its 2020 target of getting 20% of its energy mix from renewables. Thanks to the commitment of the EU and its member states, the cost of green technologies has dropped in the last few years more than anyone expected and renewables are now more competitive than ever. To cite just one figure: between 2008 and 2013 the cost of solar panels dropped by 80%. But to meet our 2030 target we’ll need to deal with new challenges.

How does the European Commission manage to handle countries’ varying positions, from those with more pro-renewables policies to others that are more conservative?

Europe is at a crossroads. If it carries on along its current trajectory, the inevitable passage to a low carbon economy will be hindered by economic, social and environmental costs arising from the fragmentation of national energy markets. We need to seize a historical opportunity given by the current drop in oil and gas prices before that trend reverses by combining this low-price environment with the decline in the cost of renewable energy sources, a strong EU climate policy and the emergence of new technologies.

The achievement of the Energy Union project depends on the political commitment of all public and private actors, including member states, regional and local bodies. The EU must be able to react to unexpected events, seize new opportunities and anticipate and adapt to future trends. Whenever necessary, the commission will use its right of initiative to set out an appropriate response to events.

How important is the role of citizens in pushing the EU to becoming more exacting of member states and calling for more stringent targets for renewables, energy efficiency and emissions reductions?

Citizens play a vital role in the current energy transition. Thanks to the slump in renewable energy costs and, very soon, in energy accumulation costs, a “prosumer” model is emerging in which citizens produce and consume their own energy in situ. Together with energy efficiency, new technologies are allowing citizens not only to reduce their bills but also to operate directly on the energy market.

What will be the role of utilities in future? How will they be organised differently?

Utilities will be called upon as well to contribute to this energy transition. We want to have strong, innovative and competitive businesses in Europe, enterprises that develop energy services and the necessary technologies to reach our targets for the energy efficiency of the economy (and more than anything else of our building stock) and put in place technologies and low-carbon processes that can be commercialised not only in Europe but around the world.

How important will energy efficiency be in our policies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions?

Energy efficiency is a fundamental pillar of the Energy Union. And also the least expensive source of energy. For this reason, we have set an indicative target to improve energy efficiency by at least 27% in the European Union by 2030. And this figure could be increased to 30% following a review in 2020. The end-goal is for energy saving and efficiency to compete on a level playing field with energy production.

Heating and air conditioning taken together represent the main source of energy demand in Europe and account for a majority of our gas imports. That’s why the commission will present a new strategy by the end of the year to promote energy efficiency and the use of renewables in this sector.


VolpiGiulio Volpi

Giulio Volpi is the Italian Desk at the Renewable Energy & CCS Policy Unit of the Directorate-General for Energy at the European Commission, the EU’s executive body. In this role, he deals with distributed generation, self-consumption and bioenergy.

Giulio has gained important experience internationally in the field of renewable energy sources, energy efficiency and the fight against climate change. He started his career in Brussels as an analyst for the international consultancy ECOTEC. He then worked for WWF International’s climate and energy programme, where he was European head of renewable energy sources in Brussels, then co-ordinator of the energy and climate programme in Latin America. Giulio has also worked as an international consultant dealing with sustainable development for the private sector and United Nations.

Following a degree in political science at the University of Pisa, he gained a European Master in environmental management at the Business School of the Erasmus University in Rotterdam. In 2014, he gained a specialisation diploma in energy market regulation at the Florence School of Regulation of the European University Institute in Fiesole. He has also been a Fellow of the Marshall Fund and Exchange Student of the American Field Service.

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