The European Commission has been coaxing member states to improve technology education in an effort to cut unemployment and help companies as they rely more on internet-connected programmes and machines.

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europe's climate policy HINGE ON RENEWABLES, SOLAR POWER


The Paris Agreement on climate change is an international commitment that can only be kept by the European Union if effective, consistent policy drives the shift to a low-carbon economy through action which boosts renewable energy such as solar power.

Ratified by the EU in early October, the agreement is a landmark pact to keep global warming to less than two degrees above pre-industrial levels.

The task is enormous. World leaders made promises to curb their emissions in the run-up to the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris. But these Intended Nationally Determined Contributions will only cap global warming at 3.7 degrees.

Efforts and ambition will have to be further stepped up by the EU, and other major polluters such as the US and China. The Paris Agreement enters into force on 7 November.

Europe is already the most solarised region in the world, with almost 100GW of installed capacity.  In 2015, 8.1 GW of solar power was added to the grid, a 15% increase on the 7GW in 2014. But that boost was the first increase since 2010-2011, according to trade association SolarPowerEurope.

This positive trend needs to be accelerated if the EU is to turn away from an economy based on fossil fuels and extraction to embrace a low carbon, sustainable future.

Trade barriers

One barrier to the sector’s expansion, according to leading industry bodies and environmental NGOs, is the ongoing trade dispute between the EU and China over solar cells and modules.

The European Commission placed punitive tariffs – extra duties to be paid by the importer – on Chinese solar cells and modules in 2013. The measures are currently being reviewed with a decision expected in March 2017.

The anti-dumping measures were conceived as a way of guaranteeing fair competition with European manufacturers. It remains the largest trade dispute between the EU and China.

Supporters argue that the measures are necessary because China was selling the cells and modules at a value below its normal price on the domestic market.

There is also a perception that the EU had done most of the expensive ‘heavy lifting’ on solar products, only to miss out on the profits after being muscled out by China.

But opponents of the anti-dumping measures argue that it is time to draw a line under the row, that they have stunted growth in European solar, and that the bloc stands no chance of hitting its climate objective with them in place.

The tariffs make solar panels more expensive and are slowing the deployment of solar across the EU.

But how does solar fit into the EU policy picture, and how it can answer some of the questions faced by the EU?

Climate policy and renewables

A suite of policies at European level are being brought to bear to cut emissions across an economy that is still dominated by an overwhelming dependence on polluting fossil fuels.

Renewable energy is a vital piece in this jigsaw. Technologies such as wind and solar generate electricity without carbon emissions, unlike coal or gas.

This clean energy can be used to drive down emissions across sectors, including transport, the one sector in the EU where emissions can continue to rise, as it becomes more electrified in the future.

The Commission’s flagship Energy Union plan has twin goals; to fight climate change and reduce the bloc’s dependence on energy imports. Renewable energy provides part of the answer to both of those questions.

It foresees a connected EU energy system, where shortages in one area can be made up by a surplus elsewhere. Policymakers want to better connect renewables into this system, and incentivise homeowners and businesses to generate their own power, through, for example, solar panels on their roofs.

The EU imports more than half of its energy every year. The crisis in Ukraine brutally exposed just how addicted the bloc was to Russian gas, giving the project political impetus.

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has vowed to make the EU “the world leader in renewables”.

The EU has set itself the target of boosting the share of renewables by at least 27% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels.

That goal is one of three climate and energy targets backed by EU leaders before the Paris Agreement. The Commission is expected to translate the targets into EU legislation in early December.

The executive also plans to publish a paper on the design of the EU’s electricity market. It is expected to push for greater integration of renewables.

These policy imperatives are positive market signals for the solar industry. In an ideal world, such signals should convince investors to reach into their pockets.

This financial backing could be further incentivised at EU level through judicious use of the European Investment Bank-helmed Juncker Plan, which offers risk guarantees on project investment to get them off the ground.

Investors need certainty but are skittish when it comes to renewables because they have been burnt by national policymakers in the past.

In Spain and the UK, the governments retroactively withdrew guaranteed support schemes for wind and solar.

Such subsidies, long-established in fossil fuel industries, were important in getting the technology off the ground. The solar industry is now transitioning to a market based model, after being let down at national level.

Economy and employment

There is the potential to give the economy a boost and cut Europe’s stubbornly high levels of unemployment, as clean jobs are created in the solar industry.

European innovation in renewables can create employment once the technology is brought to the market and rolled out at scale.

The Commission has initiatives in the pipeline to boosts research and development but without creating the right market conditions to roll out such innovation, the EU could miss out on the benefits.

The construction industry is a bellwether for the economy. The installation of solar panels on homes, if supported by consumer education, training, and forward-thinking financial services, will provide local employment.

Most companies working in construction are SMEs, identified by policymakers as drivers of the economy. The European construction industry is keen to harness the shift to the low carbon economy to create a new generation of SMEs.

Antidumping and protectionism

The Commission will have to weigh up the competing claims and political pressures for and against the duties, and whether they can meet their policy objectives with them in place.

The antidumping regulation is EU law. Any Commission decision will have to respect that legal framework but officials do have flexibility if they decide the wider interests of the Union outweigh the arguments for the trade defence measures.

Groups such as Greenpeace and Climate Action Network, and trade association SolarPowerEurope, are adamant that they do.

Meanwhile the political mood music, in Europe and globally, is increasingly protectionist.

The Commission is working on new trade defence instruments, driven by calls to protect the European steel industry from Chinese competition.

The executive is also investigating the Chinese solar industry after complaints that Chinese companies were dodging the duties by exporting through Taiwan and Malaysia.

There is public anxiety about the EU’s mooted free trade agreements with Canada and the US, CETA and TTIP.

There are concerns that such deals could drive down environmental protection standards. Some politicians are opposed to the removal of tariffs at a time when European industries are vulnerable to the pressures of globalisation.

But the Commission must be aware that without greater deployment of solar in Europe, the EU will not meet the climate commitment it has ratified with such celebration and fanfare.


The European Commission decided in 2013 to impose punitive import duties on solar panels from China in a move to guard against what it sees as dumping of cheap goods in Europe.

Chinese solar panel production quadrupled between 2009 and 2011 to more than the entire global demand.

EU producers say Chinese companies have captured more than 80% of the European market from almost zero a few years ago, exporting €21 billion to the European Union in 2011.

As a result, Chinese-made panels are as much as 45% cheaper than those made in Europe, industry executives say.

Marking an escalation of the dispute, China hit back a few months later by launching a probe into the EU wine sector.

While some European and US manufacturers would welcome EU action, installers and prospective purchasers of solar technology are concerned that such a move will drive up the cost of solar panels, leading to a slowdown in the deployment of the technology and job losses across the industry.

German Economy Minister Philipp Roesler said the European Commission made a "grave mistake" by agreeing to duties on solar panels from China and urged the Commission to work to prevent the eruption of a trade conflict.

Brussels and Beijing finally reached an "amicable solution" in July 2013, agreeing to a minimum price for solar panel imports.

Some angry European solar panel makers blasted the deal as "unacceptable and completely against European interests,” vowing to take their case to the European Court of Justice.


  • 7 November: Paris Agreement enters into force
  • March 2017: Commission decision on expiry review of antidumping measures

2016 Theme: Housing at the Centre

WHD 2016

"On this World Habitat Day, I urge national and local governments, city planners and communities everywhere to keep “Housing at the Centre”. Guaranteeing dignity and opportunity for all depends on people having access to affordable and adequate housing. I look forward to a successful Habitat III Conference that will help us advance our sustainable development agenda for the benefit of all humankind."

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon


In Resolution 40/202 of 17 December 1985, the UN General Assembly designated the first Monday of October of every year as World Habitat Day.

The 2016 World Habitat Day campaign aims to raise awareness about the need for affordable housing for all in urban areas, towns and cities.

Access to adequate housing is a global challenge growing fast with urbanization. Around one quarter of the world’s urban population continues to live in slums and informal settlements.

An increasing number of urban dwellers, especially the poor and vulnerable groups (women, migrants, persons with disabilities and HIV, elder, youth and LGBT) are living in precarious conditions, addressing their housing needs informally, lacking access to basic services and living space, isolated from livelihood opportunities and vulnerable to forced evictions or homelessness.

Every day, as people are born in or move to urban centres in search of opportunities, the demand for housing grows. Globally, a billion new houses are needed by 2025 to accommodate 50 million new urban dwellers per year.

Habitat III, the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development will take place in Quito, Ecuador, from 17 – 20 October 2016.

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The European Commission should include smartphones in upcoming legislation investigating how the design of certain products affects the environment, writes Carsten Wachholz

Carsten Wachholz is part of the Coolproducts campaign, a coalition of European NGOs working to ensure that product design and energy labelling truly benefit European consumers and the environment.

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an energy first as uk successfully transmits data via national electricity grid

Data has been transmitted across a national electricity grid for the first time, in what could be a significant step towards the creation of virtual power stations, where many thousands of homes and businesses combine to manage electricity use more smartly.

The new technology could lead to lower energy bills for consumers who allow small variations in the energy consumption of their appliances, such as water heaters or freezers.

The flexibility provided by thousands of appliances combined could reduce peaks in energy use and remove the need for some large new gas or nuclear power stations or polluting diesel generator farms that are started up in times of short supply.

The new data system, created using telecoms technology byReactive Technologies(RT) and now successfully tested on the UK’s National Grid, could also allow the optimum use of intermittent renewable energy, an important feature given the fast-rising proportion of green energy on the grid.

Unlike the smart meters being rolled out by the UK government, the new system is anonymous, with no data on household energy use being collected and therefore avoiding concerns about privacy.

The system uses new technology to send messages through national electricity cables to any appliances with a smart plug connected to the mains, asking it to adjust its energy use. In the home, this could mean allowing the temperature of a freezer to increase by 0.5C to cut demand or turning up a water heater at 1am to utilise spare renewable energy.

In the commercial sector, where the technology will be first rolled out, it could mean water company pumps are used at specific times or an office air-conditioning system is adjusted.

The development is part of a wholesale change taking place in the energy industry, in which large, centralised fossil-fuel power stations are being replaced by decentralised renewable energy and smart grids. The government’s own National Infrastructure Commission(NIC), theNational Gridand industry group Energy UKhave all said an energy “revolution” is taking place, delivering a low-carbon system that is more secure, cheaper and faster to build.

The NIC recently estimated that UK consumers couldsave £8bn a year by 2030 by adopting smart power technology, while also helping the nation meet its climate change targets. Numerouscompanies are working on smart grid concepts.

“The old mindset would be, we need to build more power stations,” said Jens Madrian, at RT and former CFO at “big six” utility RWE npower. “We disagree with that. There are other ways of managing electricity, one of which is carrying knowledge from the telecommunications and software engineering side into the energy sector.”

Marc Borrett, RT’s CEO said: “What is better? Building a Hinkley, which if it goes down you have lost 7% of the national electricity generation, or building up capacity from many hundreds of thousands of smaller devices around the UK? It needs quite a cultural shift: smaller is better, distributed is better.”

Cordi O’Hara, at National Grid, said: “We are keen to support innovative products like this one that can bring a real benefit for customers. It represents another step forward in the development of the smart grid technologies that are going to play an increasingly important role in the energy systems of the future.”

A spokesman for big six energy company SSE, which was also involved in the trial, said: “Innovation milestones, such as this, will help keep the lights on and offer significant cost savings.”

Electricity wires have previously been used to transmit information within homes and local networks, such as rows of street lights, by sending very high frequency data alongside the standard 50Hz signal. But sending messages across the country means going through sub-station transformers, which contain an air gap that cannot pass on the high-frequency data. Instead, using technology developed by former Nokia engineers in Finland, the RT system inserts the data as small changes in the 50Hz signal itself, which does jump the air gap.

When electricity demand needs to be ramped up or down, the system broadcasts a message through the grid which is received by the connected appliances. One advantage of the system over the internet and mobile phone networks is that the grid already reaches all electrical devices, even those in remote locations.

To test the new technology, RT set up a handful of electrical devices – truck-sized resistors – across the UK to generate the messages and then installed 20 listening receivers in other places, connected only via the National Grid. When the messages were sent out, they were successfully received.

RT already runs aninternet-based demand management system. It expects to have its first commercial customers for the grid-based system within 18 months.

Catherine Mitchell, professor of energy policy at the University of Exeter, said: “This is a really important next step technologically.”

She said it would allow customers to choose which appliances are used to manage demand. “This implies that more people would be content to join [such] programmes – a very good thing.” But she said government policy had to keep up with the energy revolution by providing a transparent way to pay consumers for the service they provide.


EU plans to move towards a low-carbon economy depend upon a transformed cross-border transmissions system that can integrate renewables and smart meters alike, offering energy consumption savings at source.

According to the EU’s energy roadmap for 2050, cumulative grid investments between 2011 and 2050 will cost between €1.5 trillion and €2.2 trillion, depending on the amount of support provided to renewable energies.

Some of this will go to upgrading existing transmission lines and distribution networks. But beyond environmental concerns, the purpose of a smart grid is to digitally gather, distribute and act on information about the behaviour of suppliers and consumers in order to improve the efficiency, reliability and cost of electricity services.

‘Smart meters’ are a critical part of this effort, as they allow consumers to cut their energy consumption, their bills, their carbon emissions and the stress that is placed on electricity grids at peak times.



Environment Council, 30/09/2016

Environment ministers are meeting today to discuss the ratification of the Paris Agreement. They are expected to agree on the conclusion of the global agreement on climate change on behalf of the EU.

More about the meeting:



Cracking the code

As EU Code Week puts the spotlight on skills needed for the digital economy, it is important that vulnerable segments of European society are not left further behind, writes Ilona Kish.

Ilona Kish is the Director ofPublic Libraries 2020, which brings together library organisations and advocates from across the EU. PL2020 is a programme run by The Reading & Writing Foundation, founded in 2004 by HRH Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands.

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Commission report highlights progress of the Youth Guarantee and of the Youth Employment Initiative


Yesterday, the 4th November, the European Commission adopted a Communication that highlights the main achievements of the Youth Guarantee and Youth Employment Initiative (YEI) since their launch in 2013.


Yesterday, the European Commission adopted a Communication that highlights the main achievements of the Youth Guarantee and Youth Employment Initiative (YEI) since their launch in 2013 and draws lessons on how to improve the EU and national efforts on deploying national Youth Guarantee schemes. Last year, this Commission took measures to accelerate the implementation of the Youth Guarantee by increasing the pre-financing of the Youth Employment Initiative. In his State of the Union speech of 14 September 2016, President Juncker stressed his commitment to “continue to roll out the Youth Guarantee across Europe, improving the skillset of Europeans and reaching out to the regions and young people most in need."

Valdis Dombrovskis, Vice-President for the Euro and Social Dialogue, said: "The Youth Guarantee is now a reality across Europe and the financial support the EU delivers will be crucial to continue to support Member States in helping to get young people back into work or into education. Young people are our future and it is our shared responsibility to give each and every one of them an opportunity to succeed on the labour market".

Marianne Thyssen, Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility, commented: "The measures and reforms implemented under the Youth Guarantee have made a difference in the lives of more than 9 million young people. The Youth Guarantee has supported important reforms to countries' educational systems, employment services, and partnerships to deliver better opportunities for young people. I am confident that with continued political commitment, sufficient resources and strong resolve, we will reap the benefits of the work carried out so far and have the results we are all striving for. Therefore the Commission has recently proposed to increase budget resources for the Youth Employment Initiative until 2020."

The Youth Guarantee is a political commitment taken by all EU Member States in the form of a Council recommendation of April 2013, following a proposal from the Commission,
to give every young people a good-quality offer of employment, continued education,
an apprenticeship or a traineeship within a period of four months of becoming unemployed or leaving formal education. The Youth Employment Initiative is the main EU funding programme initiated at the same time to facilitate the roll-out of the Youth Guarantee and give particular support to regions where youth unemployment rate is over 25%. All Member States are also making use of their share of the European Social Fund (ESF) to support youth employment.

The Communication adopted today reports on progress so far and shows that although youth unemployment remains a key concern in many Member States, young people's labour market performance in the EU has overall surpassed expectations since 2013. There are 1.4 million less young unemployed in the EU since 2013 and 900,000 less young people not in employment, education or training (NEETs).

These encouraging trends suggest that the Youth Guarantee, backed up by the Youth Employment Initiative, has helped make a difference on the ground. Around 9 million young people took up an offer, the majority of which were offers of employment.Moreover, the Youth Guarantee has been a catalyst for policy change, leading to structural reforms and policy innovation across Member States.

 The Youth Employment Initiative, a €6.4 billion targeted financial source mobilised at EU level, has been central to the swift set-up of national Youth Guarantee schemes and has provided direct support to over 1.4 million young NEETs living in those regions most in need. The 30% increase by the Commission in advance payments of the Initiative in 2015 to the eligible Member States - amounting to around €1 billion - played a significant role to provide readily available cash liquidity, allowing to speed up the launch of measures on the ground.

Given this progress, the Commission has recently proposed to extend the budget resources of the Youth Employment Initiative and provide an additional €1 billion to the YEI specific budget allocation, matched by €1 billion from the European Social Fund. These €2 billion could make it possible to support around 1 million more young people until 2020 in the Member States most affected by youth unemployment. These measures come on top of financial allocations available under the ESF.

The Communication adopted today underlines the need to accelerate and broaden the Youth Guarantee, and to speed up the implementation of the YEI. It recognises that more efforts need to be made to support "hard-to-reach" young people: youngsters who are not registered with the public employment services, are low-skilled, have dropped out of school, and face multiple barriers to entering the labour markets (such as poverty, social exclusion, disability and discrimination). In parallel, the quality of the offers and services provided to young people can be improved.




The EU needs to stop treating all energy sources as if they were equally desirable when it comes to energy savings. This approach undermines the promotion of renewables, with negative effects for the EU’s energy independence, writes Anders Stouge (deputy director-general of the Danish Energy Association).

The energy sector in Europe is integrating at remarkable speed, through the regional building of interconnectors and market coupling. It is happening in parallel through different parts of the value chain, across sectors and across technologies.

This is a new reality that European lawmakers need to face up to.

The right direction has already been set. When the European Commission in February 2015 presented its Energy Union strategy, it did so with the ambition to adopt a “holistic approach” by integrating energy and climate with “transport, research and innovation, industry, regional, trade, consumer protection, the digital economy … into a cohesive framework”.

This is exactly what is needed to adapt energy regulation today to the energy market of tomorrow. However, despite the importance of the path set out in the Energy Union strategy, it was no more than a strategy.

In the coming months much more important documents will flow from the Berlaymont and land on the desks of lawmakers in the European Parliament and the Council. Legislative proposals on energy efficiency, buildings, renewable energy and the design of the electricity sector will be presented this autumn. This is where the holistic vision and intentions will stand the test of real legislation.

First up is the proposal for a revised Energy Efficiency Directive, expected on 12 October.

To fully realise the potential of energy efficiency measures, we must adopt a new approach to energy savings. An approach that exploits the synergies across sectors: a holistic approach. Considering every form of energy consumption as if they are equally undesirable would be out of line with a holistic approach. Actually, the holistic approach would fully endorse a situation with higher consumption of certain types of energy while the total consumption of energy decreases. One could say “use more to use less”.

Most obvious is the potential for increasing the use of electricity in the heating sector. By the European Commission’s own figures, at least 45 % of electricity will be based on renewable energy in 2030. This means that not only will electricity be less carbon intensive, it will also rely less on imported fuels.

It would therefore be logical to adopt a more nuanced approach to energy saving measures than is currently the case. Under current legislation, member states are required to make energy savings of 1.5 % per year, regardless of what type of energy is saved. For the energy system of tomorrow, this approach is too simplistic. Energy saving measures should, in future, be designed to promote initiatives that reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and reduce import dependency – two of the key horizontal ambitions of the Energy Union.

Ensuring such an approach requires us to look at how energy savings are calculated. In the current Energy Efficiency Directive, energy savings from electricity are multiplied by a factor of 2.5. Originally this was done to account for the energy losses that occur when burning fuels like coal or gas to generate electricity.

However, the calculation also assumes that primary energy goes into generating electricity from wind turbines or solar panels. Not only is this a false assumption, it also contributes to incentivising electricity savings – even if the electricity is to a large part based on renewables and produced with no losses. In other words, the method currently applied when calculating energy savings incentivises savings on renewables.

Thus, every time households and companies use1 kWh of electricity, they are punished by a factor of 2.5, or rewarded with the same factor every time they save electricity. This is a disproportionately large incentive to save electricity, even though it is becoming greener and greener.

This “factor bashing” simply converts into the opposite of what we want. It does not help companies and citizens in the member states to convert their consumption of oil, gas and coal into consumption of green electricity that would otherwise reduce GHG emissions and imports of fossil fuels.

At the same time, we have a Renewable Energy Directive that promotes the building of renewables. But promoting new renewable energy sources, while disproportionally incentivising cutting electricity use from these renewables, does not make a lot of sense.

It is not compatible with the establishment of a holistic Energy Union.

The way energy savings are currently calculated stands in the way not only of enhancing the integration of sectors and technologies in the energy sector. It also undermines the reduction of GHG emissions and the reduction of energy imports.

Thus, as we await the upcoming key proposals from the Commission on the Energy Union, it is important that EU lawmakers consider what type of energy savings deliver the greatest benefit to the European economy, its citizens, the environment and the energy system. That would be a truly holistic approach.



Address: Charles Martel 54, 1000 Brussels, Belgium                e-mail:                  Telephone: +32 25227315