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EU Must Act on Growth in Coal-Based Electricity Imports


By Henry Edwardes-Evans

September 14, 2020 - The EU must level the playing field on imports of unabated coal-based electricity from third countries, industry association Eurelectric said in its annual Power Barometer report Sept. 14.

The report shows a steep growth in electricity imports over the last five years, to over 20 TWh in 2019 from 3 TWh in 2015.

"Due to lax energy and climate regulations, the average CO2 intensity of this imported electricity is two to three times higher" than that produced in Europe, it said.

Clamping down on carbon-intensive electricity imports could involve a border carbon adjustment in the form of a tax. The European Commission is considering inclusion of power- sector emissions in a future EU border carbon mechanism.

"Decarbonizing our own sector while increasingly relying on dirty electricity from third countries is not a credible strategy," Eurelectric Secretary General Kristian Ruby said in a briefing.

Eurelectric data showed average EU carbon intensity of generation of 234 gCO2/kWh versus 500 gCO2/kWh for non-EU export countries, including Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, the western Balkans and Turkey.

European coal-fired generation was declining faster than anticipated, meanwhile, with the association forecasting EU coal generation this year of 387 TWh compared with 618 TWh in 2018.

Nine member states were now coal-free, and 12 more would be so by 2030, including the UK, Spain, France, Italy, Finland, the Netherlands, Denmark, Ireland, Finland, Hungary, Greece and Slovakia, removing two thirds of EU coal capacity.

While renewables' growth was impressive, reaching 34% of the generation mix last year, to reach 60% by 2030 a major acceleration in wind and solar additions is needed, the association said.

"During 2010-2019, the EU27 +UK installed on average 12 GW of wind capacity every year. New installations must reach 17 GW per year for the next decade to reach 60% renewables by 2030," it said.

For solar the challenge was greater – from 11 GW/year over 2010-19 to 23 GW/year to reach a 60% mix target.

The wider context was the need to speed up electrification of the EU's economy, Ruby said, with decarbonization of transport proving to be particularly difficult.

"The EU's 250,000 electric vehicle charge points need to grow to at least a million by 2025, probably more," he said.

Electricity represented 22% of direct energy consumption in the EU, increasing by only two percentage points since 2010, Ruby said.

To get on a trajectory for net zero, electricity's share needed to reach at least 33% by 2030.

"In the building sector, a massive deployment of heat pumps is needed to achieve the EU's decarbonization and energy efficiency objectives," the report said.