The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) and the Center for Climate Strategies (CCS) held a briefing discussing how all levels of governments in the European Union and United States can expand collaboration on renewable electricity market penetration to meet energy, economic, and environmental needs. The briefing featured an upcoming report by CCS, funded by the European Union Delegation to the United States, which examines high-priority common challenges and opportunities in the renewable energy sector that are prime candidates for new or enhanced forms of transatlantic collaboration at the regional and Member State/U.S. state levels. Attendees were invited to provide comments and input for the report; they discussed how enhanced transatlantic cooperation can help set the stage for new investments and technologies through greater thought leadership, information sharing, technical assistance, and collaboration.
- Tom Peterson, President and CEO, Center for Climate Strategies, highlighted the tremendous amount the United States and European Union have in common when it comes to renewable energy. Both regions have high levels of geographic variation, significant levels of economic hardship, strong regional trends towards energy source diversification, and new carbon reduction and clean energy goals.
- Additionally, for both regions the three key barriers to renewable energy are cost, investment, and technology. Right now, we are presented with the opportunity to pool resources together and tackle all three challenges head on. Even though the European Union and the United States are particularly well-suited for collaboration, there is certainly opportunity for other multilateral international partnerships.
- To achieve a clean energy economy in both the United States and the European Union, it is critical to send a strong signal about the future of renewable energy markets. Investment will be driven by the assurance that the global economy is shifting to widespread adoption of renewable energy.
- Peterson suggested we develop virtual mechanisms for thought leadership, peer learning, and technical assistance to increase renewable energy implementation.
- Dr. Hal Nelson, Research Associate Professor, Claremont Graduate University, drew attention to three main areas for collaboration: driving down both hard costs (physical infrastructure, product pricing, etc.) as well as soft costs (standardization, negotiating costs, and taxes); increasing new clean energy investments; and improving on- and off-grid technologies (by improving transmission lines, for instance).
- Dr. Nelson highlighted the effectiveness of the federal renewable energy Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind energy and the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for solar energy. The ITC has helped dramatically lower the cost of solar panel installations, and the PTC drove high levels of wind energy installations.
- Additionally, Dr. Nelson highlighted the potential for feed-in tariffs and premiums, renewable portfolio standards, group purchasing, "YieldCo" security investment structures, grid integration, transmission line expansion, and institutional investing for boosting renewable energy collaboration.
- Dr. Dale Medearis, Senior Environmental Planner, Northern Virginia Regional Commission, stated that we need renewable energy not only to cut our emissions of greenhouse gases, but also to help us adapt to the climate change impacts that are already happening.
- Part of the problem of slow collaboration at the sub-national level is that it usually takes the shape of soft cultural exchanges which are event-based and often lack outcomes. The report recommends engaging in a more strategic manner to obtain tangible benefits and the actual transfer of policies. It recommends going beyond rhetoric and talking to actual engagement. •
- There is a need for technical experts, practitioners, and commercial representatives who are working in the renewable energy, transportation, land use, and planning sectors to engage with each other and go beyond one-week exchanges into long-term collaborations that yield benefits.
- To achieve our clean energy goals, it is critical for stakeholders to put themselves in the shoes of community leaders, mayors, and local players. It is only through collaboration on all levels that change will take place.
- Dr. Georg Maue, Counselor for Energy and Climate Policy, Embassy of Germany, discussed how Germany’s transition to renewable energy, energy efficiency and sustainable development – known as the Energiewende – has been adopted as part of an integrated European energy and climate strategy.
- Germany's renewable energy target is quite ambitious: it aims to have at least 80 percent of its electricity generated by renewable sources by 2050, and at least 60 percent of its overall energy demand met by renewable energy by that same year.
- Germany's main sources of renewable electricity are wind (on and offshore), biomass, hydropower and solar.
- The share of renewables in electricity generation has more than tripled since 2003. In 2015, Germany had more than 30 percent of its electricity generated from renewables.
- A key challenge to expanding renewables is building transmission lines, which few people want in their vicinity. In Germany, most of the wind power in is the north, but most of the energy demand is in the south. In addition to working on grid expansion, Germany is also pursuing efficiency measures and power storage to reduce the need for new transmission.
- German electricity rates are more expensive than in the United States, but German households use only a third the electricity used by the average U.S. house. This means that the average household in Germany pays about the same for electricity as the average household in the United States.
- Renewable energy drives down Germany's energy imports and has created thousands of jobs.
- Alison Conboy, Head of Energy and Environment, British Embassy, discussed the Climate Change Act, which commits the United Kingdom to an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050 compared to 1990.
- Because the electricity sector is responsible for one third of the United Kingdom’s emissions, the British government has made it a key focus of its efforts. It is working to phase out unabated coal, build more renewables, construct a new nuclear facility, and ramp up natural gas generation. By 2020, the United Kingdom aims to generate 10 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind, 12GW of onshore wind, and 12GW of solar.
- Last year, the United Kingdom transitioned to a new policy regime to promote renewables. "Contracts for difference" are loosely based on feed-in tariffs, except that they help developers know upfront how much revenue they will generate. This strongly incentivizes developers to take on a project.
- It is important to note the role that global innovation has had, and will continue to have, on cost reductions in the renewable energy marketplace. The United Kingdom, along with 19 other countries (including the United States), recently launched Mission Innovation – an international program to accelerate clean energy deployment by doubling government spending on clean energy R&D within the next five years.
Renewable energy can stimulate economies, diversify energy resources, ensure resilience, and provide affordable electricity at stable rates that are unaffected by fluctuating fuel prices. The renewable energy sectors in both the United States and Europe have already seen robust growth: by 84.4 percent between 2003 and 2013 in the European Union (EU) and by 47 percent in the United States during that same period. However, barriers remain to the greater expansion of renewable energy resources.
New forms of collaboration will be essential to overcome these barriers and to reach the ambitious new 2030 goals for renewable energy in the United States and the European Union. Through transatlantic mechanisms such as real-time peer education, information exchange, technical assistance, and policy coordination at the national, regional, state and local levels, the United States and the European Union can help each other reach energy as well as economic goals. Increasing coordination between the private sectors in both regions can also play a strong role in accelerating renewable energy use. Transatlantic collaboration can be extended to other regions throughout the world (Africa, Asia, South America…) to further accelerate the penetration of renewables and the transition to a low-carbon economy.