The hard truth
The title of this blog may suggest to you that we are on the right track when it comes to clean energy. With the start of the war in Ukraine, there were many calls for us to double down on the development of clean energies from renewable sources and to commit even more strongly to our international climate change mitigation goals.
But the hard truth is that implementing the renewable projects needed to bring about our energy transition is still a significant challenge. Where we stand, we will not be able to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement or the REPowerEU Plan. This is not because we do not have good laws, but because alone, they cannot make the difference we need.
A recent report from the energy think tank Ember highlights the scale of the challenge.
“Wind and solar deployments have a steep climb ahead to reach 1.5C aligned capacity. In 2021, the EU deployed 34 GW of wind and solar capacity combined. To reach 1.5C, yearly additions will need to increase, reaching 76 GW in 2026. Forecasts show that by this date, the EU will only be adding 38 GW, half of required annual capacity increases.”
Hurdles and delays
There are too many hurdles and delays in getting approval for renewable projects. This is clear as day to anyone working in the field.
In 2022, specific amendments to the Renewable Energy Directive were approved by the EU, stipulating a maximum of three months for the licensing process for solar energy equipment. Now, more than six months later, there is no practical effect of this directive.
Requests for updates and permits continue to drag on, caught with labyrinthine procedures between various entities, without any sense of urgency or priority. Not even the previous deadlines, which were much longer are being met, as revealed by Ember, pointing out delays that have lasted up to four years.
Counting the cost
How can we measure the consequences of these delays? And what impact will they have in the near future?
Another think tank, the Energy Transitions Commission, paints a stark picture: if the obstacles to the deployment of wind and solar power are not addressed, the world could see a shortfall of more than 20%, corresponding to 3500 TWh of clean electricity production from these sources by 2030.
Understanding the urgency of the situation, EU Energy Ministers agreed to apply a temporary framework to unblock the situation. However, short-term solutions are needed at European level, but also from national governments and institutions.
For example, it is essential to create a task-force for energy licensing, in an interdepartmental and cross-cutting perspective, and including network operators. This unit should include human resources from each institution, and have the ability to approve projects, while being regulated by a set of indicators that ensure quality of service.
Unlocking our full energy potential
If we are able to effectively meet licensing deadlines, then we can truly build upon our strong energy community legislation in Europe. This will allow us to bring these benefits to everyone: consumers, producers, investors, network operator and, of course, the environment, which needs this energy transition so much. In this sense, it will increase the attractiveness of the renewable energy sector, prioritising and promoting its accelerated deployment through less bureaucracy.
What we propose does not have to be anything innovative. We should not be afraid to imitate the good practices of other countries. Let us take inspiration, for example, from the case of Denmark, where the government has implemented a one stop shop system. This approach consolidates the licensing process in a specialised agency, serving as a single point of contact for developers throughout the project’s development. This model leads to a more efficient process that meets the requirements of the relevant local authorities, maintaining the interest of investors and thus ensuring the country’s attractiveness for international investment.
Moving forward, we will have to stop talking about goals, and instead, create the environment to radically change our licensing processes. This way, we can bring about clean energy at the speed of light!
This edited blog originally appeared in the Portuguese national newspaper Expresso.