Over the last decade, Europe's energy portfolio has evolved to embrace a greater share of renewables. Sadly, the infrastructure used to transmit and distribute the power they generate has not evolved with it
When governments meet for the COP 21 UN climate summit in Paris this winter, discussions will centre on reducing global emissions and helping countries adapt to climate change.
To understand these talks, one must first navigate a labyrinth of acronyms and jargon. One of the most important terms is INDC or intended nationally determined contribution.
INDCs are the bottom-up commitments on climate change that all countries are taking ahead of Paris. They are the yardsticks by which we can measure a nation's commitment to decarbonising our energy systems.
In February, the EU came forward with an early-bird pledge to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by "at least" 40% toward 2030.
This is a remarkable achievement. Not for the target itself, but because the EU has successfully shepherded 28 member states, with 28 energy ministries and 28 regulators, to take a united position on the global stage ahead of COP21 in Paris.
While the end goal is commendable, it should not eclipse the bigger question we face: How do we get there?
In September, the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) released its 2030 scenarios, highlighting the role wind energy could play in the European power mix by the end of the next decade. In the central scenario, EWEA expects wind power could meet a quarter of EU electricity consumption by 2030, with more than 320GW installed across the continent, providing up to 334,000 jobs.
This would make wind energy as central to Europe's power system as coal and gas are today.
Need for governance
Europe's lawmakers must foster a political and regulatory climate that champions the deployment of wind energy and renewables as part of its agenda to reduce emissions.
The EU's climate pledge flows from the 2030 climate and energy package agreed by heads of state in October 2014. Although the INDC focuses solely on greenhouse-gas reduction with no mention of the 27% renewables target, the two are inextricably linked.
To meet its 40% reduction target, Europe must have a clear renewable-energy strategy after 2020. It needs a governance structure that ensures all member states make good on their commitments, shouldering the burden together rather than leaving some countries to do the heavy lifting. This will also give the wind sector and investors much needed visibility to plan ahead.
The European Commission will play a key role as the architect of this governance system. It must perform a delicate balancing act by encouraging member states to decarbonise while respecting each country's right to shape its own power mix.
This challenge is even bigger given the political ideas and national policies that have moulded Europe's energy system over decades, whether it is French nuclear reactors, German renewables or Polish coal plants.
Such diversity not only highlights the need for political will and cooperation, but also the many hurdles Europe will have to overcome on infrastructure and electricity-market design.
Over the last decade, Europe's energy portfolio has evolved to embrace a greater share of renewables. Sadly, the infrastructure to transmit and distribute the power has not evolved with it.
As a result, Europe has a patchwork of antiquated energy systems tailored to centralised production from conventional sources such as coal, nuclear and gas. These systems are insular and nationally focused, limiting progress toward a decarbonised continent and hindering investments.
EU institutions must help member states to open up their borders, increase interconnections and allow the free-flowing exchange of electricity.
We need common agreements on cross-border balancing and investments, which will help Europe meet its collective climate pledges. It will also allay the region's energy security dilemma and cut overall costs of the electricity system.
Ultimately, the EU's intended contribution for Paris is a climate one. But redrawing the energy landscape, overhauling the market to accommodate renewables and having a clear strategy on deployment over the next decade is key to reaching that 40% GHG reduction goal.
If Europe is to remain the global leader on climate and renewable energy, it needs a technology that is clean, competitive and ready. Wind power is that solution.
Giles Dickson is CEO of the European Wind Energy Association