The view from Europe
2021 has been a landmark year for both the green transition agenda and electrical contractors across Europe. So with COP26 looming, how do our counterparts on the continent view the renewables revolution? And what new initiatives are being introduced across the water that might one day affect us all?
The past nine months have been an extremely busy time for the green transition in Europe and, consequently for EuropeOn and its members, including SELECT.
Indeed, the EU has decided to completely revamp its climate and energy legislative framework this year, following the adoption of new and more ambitious climate targets. After enshrining the objective of net zero by 2050 in EU law, European policymakers have agreed to cut emissions by 55% by 2030.
The so-called “Fit for 55 Package”
was presented this summer and is the legislative translation of the EU Green Deal which was central to President Ursula Von der Leyen’s campaign programme back in autumn 2019.
A unique opportunity
It will undoubtedly be much discussed by EU policymakers during the COP26 in Glasgow, where the EU hopes to convince more countries to follow its footsteps. Aiming to achieve the 55% emissions cut before 2030, the package reshuffles legislation such as the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Directives and introduces new legislation.
It is thus no wonder that the Fit for 55 Package should be of interest to electrical contractors. Our sector can pride itself on its 1.8 million professionals who actively implement the energy transition, by electrifying new end-uses while installing and integrating renewable energy technologies in buildings, infrastructure and transport.
The European electrical contracting sector is well aware that the Fit for 55 Package is a unique opportunity to ensure a successful energy transition while making the Green Deal the EU’s “growth strategy”, in Ms Von der Leyen’s own words.
This new package of laws will be instrumental in promoting renewable energy and ensuring that renewables are used in the most efficient way possible. In this regard, we at EuropeOn have always been convinced that renewable electricity has the most to offer in this time of change.
This belief has been reinforced by the recent strides in the power sector across Europe. In 2020, grid electricity became greener than ever as renewables overtook fossils in power generation for the first time. This now gives us a clearer view on the best way forward to decarbonise major sectors of our economy. Electrification has now emerged as the most energy efficient and cost-effective strategy to bring emissions to zero in many sectors.
A case in point would be the road transport segment. The previous raft of EU climate and energy measures, adopted in 2018, still left the door open to various technologies and so-called alternative fuels to meet sectoral emission targets. This included compressed or liquefied gas, as well as ‘blue’ or ‘grey’ hydrogen (made by ‘reforming’ natural gas), which only offer marginal emission reductions.
The changing landscape
In 2021, the picture has very much changed. Electric vehicles (EVs) have advanced drastically to become cheaper and much more efficient than any alternative. More importantly, unlike the initial perception, EVs will actually become a climate and energy resource by providing additional storage solutions to renewable electricity producers, whether the latter are households or utilities.
The same goes for heating. While we understand that switching from gas boilers to electric heat pumps may require more structural investments to existing buildings, their efficiency and potential for further integration of variable renewable electricity sources, makes them a compelling choice to reduce emissions from this ‘hard to decarbonize’ sector.
Yes, electrical contractors have a key role to play to “switch on” the energy transition, but will they rise to the call of duty in sufficient numbers? As previously outlined in CABLEtalk, EuropeOn released a new report in July, estimating the job potential of electric renovations and prosumer installations by 2030. As expected by anyone working in the sector, the job potential is tremendous, with hundreds of thousands of jobs. However, will we be able to attract the required candidates and train them with up-to-date skills? These are critical challenges that EuropeOn is striving to bring to the EU debate on the Fit for 55 Package.
“Electrical contractors have a key role in ‘switching on’ the energy transition but will there be sufficient numbers?”
EuropeOn has already been active on recently proposed measures specifically aimed at scaling up renewables, energy efficiency and EV charging stations. But there is more to come in 2021. Indeed, the Commission intends to present on 14 December further revisions of the Energy performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) and of the Third Energy Package for Gas. EPBD regulates crucial aspects of electrical contractors’ activity, especially when it comes to (deep) renovations, energy management, smart buildings and integrating electro-mobility in the built environment.
This is why EuropeOn is currently fine-tuning the last details of its position on EPBD. It will underline electrical contractors’ priorities such as:
investing in the modernisation and safety of electrical systems in buildings
making buildings ready for the e-mobility surge
mainstreaming Building Automation and Control Systems (BACS) in buildings and facilitating data access, and
reshaping the Primary Energy Factor to remove inconsistencies and improve energy performance of buildings.
The EPBD will be key to increase the production and consumption of renewable energy and achieve climate neutrality. Accounting for about 36% of GHG emission across the EU, buildings need to be addressed. While we face an uphill battle – buildings are not replaced as often as cars – we cannot overlook the contribution of this sector to our impact on climate. Additionally, we have seen that power prices across Europe are reaching new heights, leading ‘climate-sceptics’ to question governmental plans for net zero, even though these increases are linked to increases in fossil gas prices. Nonetheless, this could still reinforce the case for buildings to become more energy-resilient by producing more of their own power.
About 90% of European roofs are unused, which needs to change if we are to reach net zero. Authorities in Berlin have decided to lead the way in this regard as solar PV will become mandatory on new and renovated buildings. As the price of solar panels has dropped by over 95% since 2000, EuropeOn has been calling for solar PV to become the norm in building codes and regulations across Europe.
“Three out of the four key means highlighted by the UK presidency to achieve these targets are directly relevant to electrical contractors’ expertise”
EuropeOn is highly invested in making our electric dream a reality and we are already joining forces with the Electrification Alliance, under the #ElectrifyNow campaign, to demonstrate the benefits of electrification. In particular, we will be vocal during the EU Sustainable Energy Week on 25-29 October – the Commission’s annual energy event in Europe – and at a special event expected on 17 November.
Climate neutrality debates are not limited to the EU of course.
From 31 October to 12 November, the UK will host COP26 in Glasgow, to discuss how countries around the world can secure net zero by 2050 and keep global warming below +1.5Co.
Three out of the four key means highlighted by the UK presidency to achieve these targets are directly relevant to electrical contractors’ expertise – accelerating the phase-out of coal, speeding up the switch to EVs and encouraging investment in renewables.
EuropeOn will continue to provide more ‘food for thought’ on the next generation of renewables – with SELECT and its Members continuing to play a key role in all our futures.
A team effort
EuropeOn is the European electrical contractors’ association, of which SELECT is a member. Comprised of associations from 12 European countries, its overall objectives are to exchange best practice and strengthen electrical contractors’ profile across Europe. Find out more at europe-on.org