A year after Ursula von der Leyen declared her ambition of making Europe the world’s first carbon-neutral continent, officials and business leaders have discussed whether the coronavirus pandemic would hinder – or help – that target.
The European Commission president had said in 2019 it would be achieved through the European Green Deal, a wide-ranging set of objectives that include renovating buildings and cleaning up air and water.
This week, various panels at the European Business Summit (EBS) debated whether that was possible considering the pandemic’s impact on business.
European Commission Executive Vice President Frans Timmermans, who is overseeing plans to implement the Green Deal, said many businesses previously had the “luxury” of knowing a change was coming but could afford to “sit on the fence a bit and see when they would need to respond”.
“The pandemic has ended that possibility,” he said, adding: “I’m really pleasantly surprised by the fact that the overwhelming majority of people in business draw the conclusion that we need to restructure our economy in a sustainable way.”
One area of restructuring will be energy production, which faces competition from China.
He Jijiang, from the Institute of Energy Transition & Social Development at China’s Tsinghua University, used one EBS event to challenge European countries to a “friendly” rivalry.
Gesturing to the solar panels seen lining the wall behind him in his webcam shot, he declared he had good news: Chinese technology has found a way to deliver rooftop energy from the sun at the cheapest price yet.
A standard 1000-watt rooftop panel – known as a photovoltaic (PV) system – now costs about €400 in China, Jijiang told the panel.
He said European costs were higher only because of installation expenses and not the price of the individual components.
It presents a challenge for Germany, the European leader in the field of renewable energy production over the past decade.
The country has committed itself to delivering 65% of its energy from renewables by 2030 and appears to be making strides in that direction: electricity from renewable sources accounted for nearly half (47.8%) of the country's consumption in homes in the first three quarters of this year.
But the Centre for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research in Baden-Württemberg, which made the estimate, said part of that increase was driven by a reduced demand for electricity so far in 2020.
Kerstin Andreae, from the German utility industry association BDEW, said the figures showed there was a long way to go before the 2030 target was met.
Energy production for business and industry is measured by a different benchmark to domestic consumption, but the figures revealed the distance left to travel.
Jijiang's said he hoped to see 1,000W of PV energy generated per person in China by 2030 and that while Germany’s objective was 1,200W within the same time frame, he believed Chinese output could perform strongly.
“By 2030 to 2035 China, and many [of its] provinces and cities, will be in this very friendly race with our European friends,” he said.
“We may not be able to overtake countries such as Germany but we're confident we will be able to perform strongly in that race nonetheless.
“So we are looking forward to this friendly race.”