Dr. Romain Mauger

By Dr. Romain Mauger, GCELS, University of Groningen.

The COVID-19 crisis has spared no one. The global energy sector has certainly seen some unprecedented changes, as we can remind of last April’s negative oil prices. However, as the IEA pointed out, renewable power sources have demonstrated resilience in the face of this crisis. They have even increased their share of the power mix in many markets during lockdowns because of low operating costs and priority access to networks. In another key sector of the energy transition, transportation, news are also positive. Indeed, although there has been an unprecedented drop in global car sales in the first four months of 2020, the upward trend for global electric car sales continues.

Once the most urgent crisis management part was behind us, EU institutions negotiated an economic stimulus instrument, labelled Next Generation EU, and totalling € 750 billion. This money will be in priority spent according to the European Green Deal programme, unleashing a massive renovation wave, rolling out renewable energy projects, accelerating the installation of one million charging points for electric vehicles, and boosting the currently debated Just Transition Fund (JTF) to support re-skilling and upskilling of workers in carbon-intensive activities. The European Parliament also proposed to dedicate 1% of the JTF’s budget (set at € 25 Billion by the MEPs) to islands in order to fast-track their transition by allowing skills improvements and selected infrastructure investments.

Once money is on the table, ambitious and well thought-after legal frameworks are needed to spend it wisely. In this regard, there certainly is legal activism around. First of all, EU Member States are within the last bits of legal transposition in national law of the 2018 RES and 2019 electricity market directives. Parts of this process may have been delayed by the priority given to the health situation and economic measures for recovery, but the pieces of the puzzle are being assembled. With these directives transposed, a harmonised EU framework for renewables’ competitive development, for demand response mechanisms, for storage, for prosumers and energy communities will be in place. In addition to the recovery plan, the Green Deal and the transposition of the directives, the EU Parliament also voted in early October a 60% reduction in GHG emissions target by 2030 compared to 1990. The previous target was set at 40% and the EU Commission proposed 55% in September. If such a very high target is adopted in the EU Climate Law, a wave of new bold legal measures will have to follow.

In sum, for SMILE technologies and islands, the lights are turning to a shining green after the COVID-19 crisis. SMILE technologies, encompassing electric and power-to-heat batteries, smartening devices for EV charging, electricity self-consumption, and for limiting variable renewable energy curtailment (among others), all key pieces of the energy transition towards a low-carbon world, are certainly in the right place at the right time.