December 15, 2011 / 11:57 AM / 8 years ago

Renewables need not cost more-EU energy chief

* Need deeper guidance towards 2030 goals in 2 years

* Green groups say Commission still supports nuclear

* Goal is to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80-95% by 2050

By Barbara Lewis

BRUSSELS, Dec 15 (Reuters) - Shifting to renewable energy will ultimately cost around the same as business as usual, and the EU needs to set the next steps towards low-carbon power soon, pending formal targets by 2030, Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said on Thursday.

He was laying out the European Union’s latest road map for mostly eliminating carbon from the fuel mix by 2050 to guide investors beyond the Commission’s existing set of energy targets.

“It’s more or less the same if we go for business as usual or for more ambitious scenarios which involve a lot of renewables,” Oettinger told a news conference.

A leaked draft last week showed that converting to a lower-carbon economy would increase electricity prices to around 2030, because renewable energy technology requires high start-up costs. They would fall after that, because fuel sources such as sun and wind are free.

Early investment decisions to replace ageing infrastructure with more intelligent, joined-up networks across the European Union can also contain costs. “It’s sensible to invest now,” Oettinger said.

Investors need interim targets for guidance, beginning with figures and followed by binding targets.

“If we’re going to end up with zero by 2050, then we must have a realistic interim (renewables) target by 2030,” he said.

“It may be that in two years’ time, we have to lay down figures for this, or it may be that we lay down conditions, for example CCS (carbon capture and storage).

“In 2014, we want to establish what must be achieved by 2030.”

BEYOND 2020

A set of 2020 targets are a major plank of the EU’s energy policy, which is aimed at ensuring sustainable, secure and competitive supplies, with reduced dependence on imports from energy giants such as Russia.

The three 2020 targets are to cut carbon emissions by 20 percent, to increase the share of renewables by 20 percent and to improve efficiency by 20 percent.

Beyond the end of the decade, road maps for various sectors are designed to aid investment decisions pending the setting of new formal targets.

The overarching aim, which Oettinger said was broadly agreed, is to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 to 95 percent of 1990 levels by 2050.

By 2030, he has said, it should be possible for 30 percent of the energy mix to come from renewables, whereas by 2050 electricity production should be almost carbon free, although transport could still have fossil fuel in the mix.

Many in the energy community welcomed the road map’s scenarios, which included a continued role for nuclear power and natural gas, which is as less carbon-intensive than coal.

“It is encouraging to see the European Commission endorsing natural gas as an essential element in the EU’s energy mix,” Kjetil Tungland, managing director of the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline, said.

“Yet, the challenges of gas supply diversification and energy security are still to be tackled.”

Environmentalists and Green politicians welcomed the statement that renewable energy would ultimately cost no more, although they expressed concerns that the Commission continued to support fossil fuels and nuclear power, even after Japan’s nuclear disaster this year.

Oettinger said the Commission was neutral on nuclear power, which generates electricity without producing carbon emissions, and it was up to member states to decide their energy mix.

“This road map shows that getting clean energy from renewables will cost taxpayers no more than getting dirty and dangerous energy from coal or nuclear power,” Greenpeace EU Energy Policy Director Frauke Thies said.

“The Commission will be tempted to overplay the role of coal and nuclear energy to appease the likes of Poland and France, but the numbers in the road map are unequivocal. It proves that a modern energy system can’t do without renewables and efficiency but can easily consign coal and nuclear power to the past.”

Poland is 90 percent reliant on coal for its electricity, and France derives roughly three quarters of its power from nuclear reactors. (editing by Jane Baird)

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