The Renewable Energy Directive (RED II)

by Giulia Bonazzi

To reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, the European Union (‘EU’) enacted a comprehensive package of measures. Among them, of particular relevance is the Renewable Energy Directive (‘RED II’) which lays down the legal framework for the deployment of renewable energy sources or ‘renewable energy’ across all sectors of the EU’s economy [1]. This article provides an overview of the Directive’s main provisions and its recently proposed amendment in the context of the ‘Fit for 55 Package’ proposal.

The Renewable Energy Directive’s main provisions: a Union-wide target for 2030, cooperation mechanisms and the rules on financial support

The Directive’s aim is that of providing a common framework “for the promotion of energy from renewable sources” [2]. It furthermore contains rules on financial support for electricity from renewable energy sources, on self-consumption of renewable energy electricity, on the uptake of such energy in the heating and cooling sector, as well as in the transport sectors [2]. Lastly, it sets out sustainability and greenhouse gas (‘GHG’) emissions criteria for biofuels, bioliquids and biomass fuels (see Article 2 of RED II for definitions of these terms) [2].

To ensure the uptake of renewables, Article 3(1) sets a binding Union-wide target by 2030 of ‘at least 32%’ of the EU’s gross final consumption to come from renewable energy sources [3].   Acknowledging the diversity among Member States, the Directive encourages cooperation mechanisms between Member States and between Member States and non-EU countries in the form of bilateral or multilateral arrangements [4]. This could take the form of statistical transfers (Article 8), joint projects and joint support schemes, but also exchanges of information and best practices [5]. Pursuant to Article 4(1), Member States may decide to apply support schemes to reach the Union and national targets. Such support must be granted in “an open, transparent, competitive, non-discriminatory and cost-effective manner” [6]. Lastly, pursuant to Article 2(1), biomass is considered ‘renewable energy’. Article 29(1)(c) further provides that energy for consumption from biofuels, bioliquids and biomass fuels is eligible for financial support if certain sustainability and GHG emissions criteria are met. The classification of biomass as a renewable energy source has however not been free from criticism. The European Academies’ Science Advisory Council, for example, strongly advised against considering biomass as a renewable energy source, “unless the replacement of fossil fuels by biomass leads to real reductions in atmospheric concentrations of CO2 within a decade or so” [7]. In EU Biomass Plaintiffs v. European Union, applicants from six countries challenged such classification by arguing that inter alia this would accelerate forest devastation and deforestation and that, by not counting the emissions produced by burning wood fuels, the classification would lead to an overall significant increase in GHG emissions [8].

The ‘Fit for 55 Package’ proposal

As part of the ‘Fit for 55 Package’ proposal, the European Commission (‘EC’) proposed to revise RED II [9]. The amendment is regarded as a necessary precondition for the EU to reach climate neutrality by 2050 [9, 10].

The EC proposed to increase the overall EU-target from ‘at least 32%’ of renewable energy sources in the energy mix to ‘at least 40%’ by 2030 [9]. It furthermore laid out an extensive framework for the employment of renewable energy sources across all sectors of the economy. In particular, it proposed to strengthen the measures for those sectors (such as transport, buildings and industry) where integration of renewables proved to be much more difficult [10]. Furthermore, in those sectors where renewable-based electrification is currently seen as impractical, the EC allows for the use of renewable and low-carbon fuels, in particular hydrogen [9, 10]. Lastly, the criteria for forest biomass are also tightened to ensure consistency with the EU’s biodiversity objectives [10]. 

The proposed framework has been criticized from different viewpoints. On the one hand, those who believe in the potential of bioenergy in the run-up to climate neutrality accused the proposal of being ‘poorly designed’ and of failing to ‘meet expectations’ [11]. The proposal in fact lacks the necessary incentives for both private and public investments [12]. On the other hand, NGOs fiercely protested against the proposal. They accused the EC of being influenced by months of lobbying, leading it to ultimately ignore the existing scientific knowledge on the matter and continuing to allow the destruction of forests [13]. They thus urge the EC to exclude biomass as a renewable energy source from the proposal [14]. Others such as the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) also claim that the potential of both hydrogen and biomass have been overestimated as “as if they were a magic wand that could decarbonise all sectors” [15].

Being up until now merely a proposal, it remains yet to be seen how the European Parliament and Council of the European Union will incorporate these considerations into the final Renewable Energy Directive. The coming months will thus be crucial to bring about the necessary amendments to the proposal.

References

[1] Article 1 and Recital 2, Directive (EU) 2018/2001 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 December 2018 on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources, URL: EUR-Lex – 32018L2001 – EN – EUR-Lex (europa.eu), accessed on 26th October 2021.
[2] Article 1, Directive (EU) 2018/2001 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 December 2018 on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources, URL: EUR-Lex – 32018L2001 – EN – EUR-Lex (europa.eu), accessed on 26th October 2021.
[3] Article 3(1), Directive (EU) 2018/2001 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 December 2018 on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources, URL: EUR-Lex – 32018L2001 – EN – EUR-Lex (europa.eu), accessed on 26th October 2021.
[4] Article 1 and Recital 39, Directive (EU) 2018/2001 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 December 2018 on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources, URL: EUR-Lex – 32018L2001 – EN – EUR-Lex (europa.eu), accessed on 26th October 2021.
[5] Recital 39, Article 8, Articles 9-12 and Article 13, Directive (EU) 2018/2001 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 December 2018 on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources, URL: EUR-Lex – 32018L2001 – EN – EUR-Lex (europa.eu), accessed on 26th October 2021.
[6] Article 4(4), Directive (EU) 2018/2001 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 December 2018 on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources, URL: EUR-Lex – 32018L2001 – EN – EUR-Lex (europa.eu), accessed on 26th October 2021.
[7] Page 1, European Academies Science Advisory Council, 2019, Commentary: Forest bioenergy, carbon capture and storage, and carbon dioxide removal: an update, European Academies Science Advisory Council, URL: <Forest bioenergy, carbon capture and storage, and carbon dioxide removal: an update | EASAC – Science Advice for the Benefit of Europe>, accessed on 26th October 2021.
[8] Case T-141/19, Peter Sabo and Others v European Parliament and Council of the European Union [2020], URL: <CURIA – Documents (europa.eu)>, accessed on 26th October 2021.
[9] Renewable energy directive, European Commission website, URL: Renewable energy directive | Energy (europa.eu), accessed on 26th October 2021.
[10] Commission presents Renewable Energy Directive revisions, European Commission news, URL: Commission presents Renewable Energy Directive revision | European Commission (europa.eu), accessed on 26th October 2021.
[11] EU’s ‘Fit for 55’ package threatens biomass progress, says Bioenergy Europe, Bioenergy News, URL: EU’s ‘Fit for 55’ package threatens biomass progress, says Bioenergy Europe | Bioenergy Insight Magazine (bioenergy-news.com), accessed 26th October 2021.
[12] Thomas Meth, Fit for 55 recognizes that sustainable biomass is key to fighting climate change, but the details must be right for today and tomorrow, The European Files, URL: Fit for 55 recognizes that sustainable biomass is key to fighting climate change, but the details must be right for today and tomorrow – The European Files, accessed 26th October 2021.
[13] What does ‘Fit for 55’ mean for forests?, Fern, URL: What does ‘Fit for 55’ mean for forests? – Fern, accessed 26th October 2021.
[14] Elena Sánchez Nicolás, ‘Fit for 55’: what is it, and why now?, EU Observer, URL: ‘Fit for 55’: what is it, and why now? (oclc.org), accessed 26th October 2021.
[15] EU’s ‘Fit for 55’ is unfit and unfair, EEB, URL: EU’s ‘Fit for 55’ is unfit and unfair (eeb.org), accessed 26th October 2021.
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