The Green Deal must be a thought-out transition not a precipitous switch

Riho Terras
Member of the European Parliament Committee on Industry, Research and Energy

Europe’s future in energy can be viewed through three prisms: economic-competitive challenges, technological challenges, and security of supply challenges. It is important to build the European Union’s strategy for an environment friendly energy sector through these domains.

The current aim of the Green Deal is to replace existing energy sources with renewables no matter what. The European Union wants to be at the forefront of tackling climate change, and this absolutely is commendable. However, our eagerness alone will not solve any problems: the EU makes up approximately only 6–10% of the total CO2 emissions in the world. Every other country and major polluter – China, India, even the US – is taking the whole transition ‘at their own pace’. Our eagerness might instead create new problems for us.

The economic-competitive aspect is one of the reasons why every major power has its own pace for conducting the green transition. Those who are slower to adopt green energies have an advantage in several industries and production. China is building numerous new coal power stations because they do not have to adhere to any CO2 quota systems and their economy benefits from it. The EU has rushed to the forefront with the Green Deal but on the expense of our competitiveness. Everyone else has taken notice of this.

Should we forfeit and continue as we were? Definitely not. Someone must take the initiative. Our current plans for climate neutrality by 2050, however, are a bridge too far. We are living in an electricity civilisation. Electricity is the input for almost everything: our industries, our communication, our housekeeping, our entertainment. More and more is the same course being set in transportation. Our dependency on electricity is growing. Therefore, we must find means of energy production that could keep up with this rapidly increasing demand, not focus on phasing out existing technologies in favour of green technologies that cannot fill the void left by the switch.

Investments into new technologies is the key

I am a big proponent of new technologies and innovation in general. Prospective technologies must reach further than the exhibition floor, they need proper investments and government backing to achieve their potential and become financially feasible. For example, in Estonia we have several scientists who are enthusiastically developing hydrogen technology, but because of the disinterest of the government and lack of a corresponding strategy the advancements are limited at best. One cannot develop hydrogen powered heavy transportation without the required infrastructure and government support.

My grandmother worked at an oil shale mine in Estonia. I have been surrounded by this resource most of my youth. Nevertheless, I am not opposed to moving away from filling our power station furnaces with oil shale to produce electricity. I welcome it. However, we cannot just snap our fingers and switch to solar and wind power overnight. It must be a transition in the literal sense.

Existing technologies can be replaced when there is a suitable replacement. Denmark and Netherlands might make do with solar energy, but Poland and Lithuania will not; Sweden has the possibility for hydro energy, Estonia has not, etc.  This transition cannot be achieved with the current shotgun approach where the Green Deal proposes a ‘one size fits all’ solution. The EU is a diverse union of nations, and these specificities must be accounted for.

The effects on energy supply and security

Regarding the discussion of climate neutrality, we are not talking about absolutes but proportions. We intend to reach a certain level of ‘greenness’ but the demand for energy is rising more quickly than green energy can replace it. The current energy crisis in Europe is a prime example of it. Short-sighted preparations for a cold winter and the increased demand for natural gas worldwide has led to high demand, insufficient supply, and obscene energy prices – and I am certain that the prices will not fall but increase further. Expensive electricity is the new normal.

The very prompt switch from fossil fuels to renewables is ravaging the pockets of all European people as green energy is not yet up to the task of replacing current previous technologies. Advancements in energy storage could help to alleviate these problems and make renewables more viable.

One of the biggest mistakes is the voluntary dependence on natural gas. Germany has led the way of tethering themselves by pipelines to natural gas – specifically Russian natural gas. Europe is so dependent on natural gas that there is no quick way of solving this problem and therefore there is no easy fix for the current crisis.

Energy supply and energy security can be guaranteed by a diverse portfolio of energy sources and energy sources that can be regulated according to demand. Solar and wind are not dispatchable energy sources and for natural gas we hinge on others.

Both, the European Union and its member states, need a reliable energy strategy that tackles not just the effects of the energy sector on the climate, but guarantees a strong energy supply to its people. Investments and trust in new technologies and bettering existing ones is paramount to achieve these goals. One does not fill up the previous well before a new one has been dug.

We have to ready ourselves for all kinds of opportunities.

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