The European Commission yesterday announced its intent to remove demand for two-thirds of its Russian gas supply in less than nine months and hugely accelerating the rate of solar deployment is a central part of its radically raised clean energy ambition.

The EU’s plan to hit fast-forward on its Fit for 55 emissions reduction plan, in a bid to reduce the bloc’s reliance on Russian gas, will include a proposal to bring forward enough rooftop solar panels to generate up to 15TWh of clean electricity this year.

The European Commission yesterday stated its intent to draw up a “REPowerEU” package of policies “by the summer” to try and reduce by two-thirds the volume of Russian gas it imported last year, with the aim of securing the reduction by the end of December.

The emergency measure was drafted in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the connected threat to supplies of Russian gas, oil and coal to the EU.

Fast forward

A communication published by the EU executive yesterday included proposals to fast-forward the deployment of solar generation capacity, including rooftop PV which, to date, had been planned to arrive by the end of the decade.

The commission said the EU imported 155 billion m3 (bcm) of Russian gas last year and it will aim to reduce 103bcm of that demand this year by varying its sources of gas supply and dramatically speeding up the deployment of renewables, green hydrogen, and energy efficiency measures. “Let’s dash into renewable energy at lightning speed,” said commission VP for the European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, as the REPowerEU plan was announced.

The commission pledged to deliver a solar energy document in June which will include a proposed European Solar Rooftops Initiative and the EU body said successfully installing enough panels to generate the hoped-for 15TWh of clean power this year would remove demand for 2.5bcm of Russian gas.

Accelerated

With the Fit for 55 package – which refers to a planned 55% cut in EU carbon emissions this decade – laying plans for 420GW of solar generation capacity by 2030, speeding up that planned rate of PV project deployment 20%, as the commission suggested yesterday, could reduce demand for a further 20bcm of Russian gas this year.

With the REPowerEU package set to recommend a further 80GW of solar and wind capacity this decade – on top of the figures included in the Fit for 55 plan – to power green hydrogen production, the commission called for EU member states to immediately get to work processing permits for renewable energy projects as quickly as their legislative systems allow, and to allocate the land and water bodies necessary for the raised ambition.

The commission has promised to deliver, in May, recommendations on how to accelerate project permitting and has also told member states and industry it may be necessary to stockpile critical and other raw materials necessary to continue the deployment of renewables facilities.

The commission said the EU should aim to double the projected, Fit for 55 rate of heat pump deployment to 10 million units over the next five years, a move it said could remove demand for another 1.5bcm of Russian gas this year.

The Brussels-based body said the bloc should secure an extra 15 million tons of green hydrogen this decade, on top of the Fit for 55 volumes, with 10 million tons more than planned to be imported by 2030 and five million tons more to be generated on European soil. The inclusion of nuclear-fired hydrogen among the definition of the green form of the gas may prove contentious, however.

With solar trade bodies in Italy and Europe having criticized moves by the governments of Spain and Italy to protect households and businesses from rising energy costs by fixing electricity prices and clawing back profits from generators, yesterday’s commission announcement implicitly endorsed such moves, as an emergency measure to protect energy users.

State aid

The EU executive issued guidance on the circumstances which would permit such moves and its stipulation renewable energy producers be equally affected by such measures may raise the hackles of membership bodies such as Italia Solare and SolarPower Europe, even if such bodies registered their opposition to such state-sponsored energy market intervention before the invasion of Ukraine.

With the commission stating the EU imports 90% of its gas and 45% of those imports arrive from Russia, the REPowerEU plan will also aim to diversify the source of its gas imports. The commission said Norway supplied around 24% of EU gas last year, with another 13% arriving from Algeria, 7% from the US, 5% from Qatar, and 7% from unspecified, “other” markets.

US president Joe Biden yesterday announced a ban on Russian gas imports to the US, potentially rendering that alternative source of gas tighter for EU purposes and the same might be said of Norway, which the UK takes a lot of its gas from, given Boris Johnson’s announcement yesterday of plans to phase down Russian gas imports.

The EU also imports around 27% of its oil from Russia, and 46% of its coal, according to the commission.