The EU should lead by example. Interview with Megan Richards

by Cristina Madrid, from Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

Megan Richards is Director of Energy Policy at DG Energy and has previously held positions of responsibility in DG Research and the JRC. We talked to her at the Barcelona Energy Days 2019 about current EU energy narratives and policy strategies and the added value of research.

 

Cristina Madrid and Megan Richards

 

MAGIC: The EU seems to be reducing domestic natural gas supply, for example with the closing of the Groningen fields, while Member States like Germany are predictably increasing their demand. How do you see the future of natural gas in the EU?

Megan Richards (MR): Natural gas is currently an important contributor to the energy mix and in the short term the EU will need natural gas for two reasons: to substitute coal (thus reducing GHG emissions) and to offset the variability of renewable energy sources. Diversification of natural gas supply is one of the EU energy security aims and that might include the development and use of new technologies. In the medium to long term, we need to decarbonise gas too to be able to meet the 2050 goal.

MAGIC: What are the main difficulties you foresee in this transition in regards to energy policy?

MR: There is no one simple solution to solve all energy issues. One important challenge is investment. We must encourage the private sector to make more low carbon investments and see their potential benefits. In terms of the projects of common interest related to the Connecting Europe Facility, the Commission is prioritizing electricity interconnections (now 2/3 of the projects of common interest) over those related to natural gas. This should help to encourage the integration of renewable energy in the electricity system, better connect Europeans, and help decarbonisation efforts.

In the clean energy debate, the new EU regulatory framework can serve as an example to other regions and countries on setting ambitious targets and encouraging market improvements.

MAGIC: One of the principles of the Energy Union involves the solidarity between regions in energy terms. If Member States are free to choose their strategies, what tools do you have at the directorate to “convince them” about sharing energy production?

MR: The EU Treaty establishes that Member States have the right to use their energy resources and to choose their energy mix. However, they must use those resources in line with underlying EU law. In other words, in line with environmental, health and safety, climate and energy legislative provisions.

MAGIC: What about energy poverty, would more affordable energy help to manage the issue?

MR: It is important that markets set and send the right signals. Regulating energy prices for all will not help focus attention on those who need it most and will distort markets. Reducing energy poverty should be addressed using social policy, ensuring that funding is available for energy efficiency improvements for low income families for example, and the Commission's Energy Poverty Observatory is helping to address this issue too.

MAGIC: The EU target of reaching 32% of renewable energy by 2030 has to overcome the important challenge of energy storage, especially knowing that the value chain of regular (Li) batteries is highly dependent on international markets. What strategies is the EC following to prepare?

MR: There are other storage technologies that will play an important role too. For example using excess renewable energy to create low carbon fuel that is stored(“power-to-X”), hydrogen, pumped hydro, or even electric cars as storage will be used in the future: not to mention the role of natural gas storage. EC research funding is also used to develop new storage technologies. I am sure that we will be able to find viable ways of implementing current technologies to scale and at reasonable prices, as well as finding new technological solution. If we think about how much technology has advanced in the last ten years, the next ten should bring further improvements.

MAGIC: In MAGIC we assess the coherence between different policies (energy and water, for example). How challenging is it to involve other DGs into energy policy making and/or to avoid incoherence?

MR: We spend a significant part of our time engaging with other DGs and other EU institutions, as well as with all stakeholders both in Europe and beyond. All significant legislative proposals made by the Commission are subject to an impact analysis.

MAGIC: And what is important for the EC in terms of research strategy?

MR: First, research results are an important input to legislation. We need to have a solid evidence base to make sound legislative proposals. Second, dissemination and knowledge transfer are essential to make the best use of the research results developed.