The Renewable Energy Directive: Wasting renewable electricity?

Publish date: May 18, 2018

To make the most of the steadily growing renewable power and address the urgent need to tackle climate change, renewable electricity sources should be used to provide the greatest amount of climate and environmental benefits. The most effective use of this valuable resource should be prioritised. As it stands, the synthetic fuels of non-biological origin target of the Renewable Energy Directive (II) will end up wasting renewable power, squander subsidies, preserve fossil power on the grid and keep fossil cars on the road.

Direct use of renewables offers the largest carbon mitigation potential

The more of renewable electricity we use directly, the more climate benefit that renewable electricity will provide. Results from the European Commission’s official science and knowledge service, the Joint Research Centre, confirm this; Their calculations show that using wind electricity as a direct replacement for coal and other fossil producers of electricity such as natural gas, gives by far the most climate benefits:

Source: Joint Research Centre Technical Report, Edwards et al. (2014)

‘’Using wind electricity as a substitute for coal electricity is the most efficient option for GHG savings.’’ (Edwards et al. 2014)

Using the electricity from a wind turbine instead of electricity from a coal power plant is more than 7 times more effective in reducing emissions than taking that same electricity and turning it into synthetic methanol or e-diesel (in the revised Renewable Energy Directive, these fuels go by the name of renewable fuels of non-biological origin – RFNBOs).

When we put these fuels into a tank of a diesel car, they give an even smaller bang for that initial buck (unit of electricity) due to the high inefficiency of the engine.

Wasting the resources that we have to decarbonise our society just to keep fossil cars on the road is not a good deal. In fact, supporting such technologies in a grid that is not entirely clean could actually increase emissions (Edwards et al. 2014).

Ultimately, these technologies could hold us hostage in a fossil system: reducing the amount of renewables on the grid, keeping coal running, emissions rising and diesel cars on the streets for decades to come.

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