Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Energy Policy As A Step Towards An ‘Ever Closer Union’?

By: Jessica Mrase

The latest installment of the Conversations on Europe series kicked off the spring semester with a discussion on clean energy in Europe. Hosted by the University of Pittsburgh’s European Union Center (EUC), the conversation was held via video conference entitled “Wind, Water, Sun: Clean Energy in Europe.” Participating panelists included Shanti Gamper-Rabindran (University of Pittsburgh), Espen Moe (Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Jonas Meckling (UC Berkley, and was moderated by Michaël Aklin (University of Pittsburgh).

The conference examined the European Union’s Renewable Energy Directive that sets rules for the EU to achieve a target of 20% renewables for final energy consumption by 2020. Member states have already agreed on a new renewable energy target of at least 27% of final energy consumption in the EU as a whole by 2030. The European Commission has also set goals for a clean energy transition that would mark a step towards the creation of a European Energy Union. Several questions arise from these projections, however Michaël Aklin set out three guiding questions in which to direct the panelists. The first asks what explains the European success in energy. The next question was in regards to the EU’s transatlantic relationship and whether or not it should be pessimistic about the US. Finally, the scope broadened globally asking what the situation in the rest of the world is.

In general, the panelists agreed that Europe is entering a new age of energy politics. Jonas Meckling mentioned that necessary change would be systemic in nature, that there is the challenge of coordination. In order for transmission lines to be constructed and carried throughout the continent, state-to-state coordination is essential. With energy grids spanning large geographical areas, national utility companies are limited to their state business models. The renewable revolution is a challenge for the companies, and they cannot go bankrupt. Therefore, the core, international problem lies within the hands of these companies.

The discussion then turned to the US and China. The US faces the flipside of the EU’s problems. Shanti Gamper-Rabindran argues that the states must have benefits to the local market, for example offering direct subsidies and other incentives. However, what would the payment schemes for these land orders look like? Grids are not on a state level, so while EU countries have had a stable support system, the US is much more ‘start-stop’ in moving forward. Espen Moe introduced China as the real record-breaker in the race for clean energy. The nation is going very deliberately for solar and winder power. Despite the, as Moe put it “atrocious,” air pollution in Beijing, China realizes it will take a massive hit by global warming, so it is finding balance.

The conversation concluded that the story for renewable energy is not a clear one. What is the gain? What is the political story? Will the goals for 2020 and 2030 be met? As Europe strives for a world of clean energy, it is clearly a global effort that must be achieved internationally.

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