The EU’s 27 member states are due to submit updated plans on how they intend to contribute to EU renewable energy objectives – themselves updated in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – by the end of this month, and the renewable energy industry is paying attention. National governments have until 30 June to submit updated draft National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs) to the European Commission. NECPs are comprehensive strategies of sometimes a few hundred pages outlining what national energy mixes are going to look like by 2030, and how countries intend to get there.
From national renewable energy targets and investments in grid development, to tackling energy poverty and decarbonising buildings or transport, NECPs will “influence our day-to-day lives”, said Brigitta Boszó, climate policy coordinator at the NGO Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe, at a press briefing in mid-June.
All in all, NECPs will show how each EU member state expects to contribute to the collective binding 42.5% EU renewable energy goal for 2030 – and its 2.5% indicative top-up. “The NECPs are all the more important” in light of the new target, as the increase in ambition from the previous 32% EU-wide renewables target is significant, says Jonathan Bonadio, senior policy advisor at the trade association SolarPower Europe.
The NECPs’ potential to drive investments has long been underestimated by national governments, says Bonadio; the NGO Transport & Environment calls them “ugly ducklings with potential to become swans” in a recent press release. The EU’s renewable energy sector believes that new draft plans have vast potential to drive investments – as long as EU member states ramp up their ambitions.
NECPs: an “investment catalogue”
Once EU governments submit their draft NECPs, the Commission will provide comments and assessment, and member states have until the end of June 2024 to submit final versions.
The plans must lay out which electricity generation technologies EU member states aim to install but also how they aim to improve energy efficiency, reduce greenhouse gas emissions across sectors, enable cross-border interconnections, develop the grid, drive research and innovation, and tackle energy poverty.
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“[NECPs are] sort of an investment catalogue for people who want to invest in Europe, for companies but also banks that want to lend money [to those companies],” says Christoph Zipf, press and communications manager at the trade association WindEurope.
“They outline how serious governments are about the expansion of renewables. First of all, in terms of volumes but also in terms of visibility on the auction schedule, auction design, etc,” he adds. “I’d say a good NECP will get you a lot of investment.”
“What is important for the update of the NECPs is to use it to give visibility to the industry,” concurs SolarPower Europe’s Bonadio. “So that when [national] policies are not converging towards the NECP target, the industry can say, ‘hey, this is our NECP, this is how this member state [supposedly] sees deployment [of renewables], but in reality nothing has been done to enable this deployment’.”
This is not the first time EU member states have done this exercise. The drafting of NECPs became compulsory under the bloc’s Energy Union governance regulation back in 2018, and EU capitals submitted their first final 2030 strategies from the end of 2019.
That was just before the Ursula von der Leyen Commission took over and before any of the European Green Deal legislation – including the EU Climate Law and ‘Fit for 55‘ package – existed. In turn, the Covid-19 pandemic and Russia’s war on Ukraine, which spurred REPowerEU adjustments to ‘Fit for 55’, had a profound impact on EU member states’ current energy mixes and future plans.
The EU solar industry says that the objectives in the first NECPs were under EU member states’ true potential for renewables deployment. To give examples from SolarPower Europe’s NECP Database, Spain’s current NECP target for installed solar capacity by 2030 is 39GW – much lower than the 155GW the trade association considers the market is on track for. France’s current NECP target stands at 44GW of solar capacity by 2030 – the trade association believes Paris could install at least 71GW by the end of the decade.
“There was an extreme discrepancy between what was expected under [the previous] NECPs in terms of solar deployment and what we have been assessing as feasible potential,” says Bonadio.
From NECPs to reality: bridging the gap
The wind sector will need to bridge an important gap with the new NECPs – the industry is seeing annual wind capacity installations of 16GW, but that is nearly halfway short of the 28.5GW needed for Europe to stay on track to its climate objectives, says Zipf. “Obviously we are not on track to reach the 2030 targets,” he adds.
“The new NECPs that are drafted this year should take this into account and be more ambitious than governments have been over the last three, four years, because some time has been wasted already,” he continues.Keep up with Energy Monitor: Subscribe to our weekly newsletter
NECPs are not only about targets, however, but also the policies needed to meet them. In this sense, WindEurope has identified three factors that could make or break the deployment of wind power capacity: auction design, plans to electrify heating, transport and industry, and permitting procedures.
SolarPower Europe has identified the main barriers per country, from workforce and supply chain shortages in Germany, to Italy’s permitting procedures and grid development constraints, to public acceptance of large-scale solar in a number of countries.
Delays and lack of consultation
The Commission has not yet published notifications of any updated NECPs it has received on its website. While the draft NECPs are expected by the end of this week, it is likely that most of the plans will come late.
“We heard from some of them [national governments] that they might be as late as September or even the end of the year, especially those that depend on national legislation,” said CAN Europe’s Boszó.
Member states such as France depend on national legislation that is expected to be finalised over the summer to finish their NECPs. Meanwhile, little consultation has so far been seen in other larger EU nations like Germany and Italy, added Boszó. Only the Croatian and Danish draft NECPs are known to be ready, she said at the June briefing.
The lack of consultation prior to submitting the draft is precisely what many NGOs have been complaining about.
EU capitals are required by the Energy Union governance regulation to hold regular and comprehensive public consultations on their NECPs. This is also an obligation under the Aarhus Convention on the access to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters of 1998, of which the EU and its member states are signatories.Read more from this author: Anna Gumbau
An analysis by the NGOs WWF and CAN Europe found that few EU countries had started any sort of public consultation two months before the deadline, and only in three of them – Croatia, France and Luxembourg – had any dialogues between local, regional and national authorities been set up.
The EU can do little to enforce compliance of the 30 June NECP submission deadline or to ensure that public consultations are properly taking place, say NGOs.
“We urge [the Commission] to employ influence and your services’ resources to address this lack of democratic decision-making in the NECP revision and we remain ready to support these tasks,” said an NGO coalition in an open letter to the EU’s executive on 19 April.
As renewable energies and the energy transition are questioned in some EU member states, citizens need information and engagement.
“It is important to know if your member state has more of a vision for utility-scale PV or big projects requiring land, permitting and public acceptance, or if it is going to be about solar rooftop mostly [which requires a different kind of empowerment],” says SolarPower Europe’s Bonadio.
“NECPs give visibility to investors but also to citizens,” he sums up.