Will clean technologies find a place?

The European Commission is campaigning for the development of clean technologies in mass markets to accelerate the transition to energy. But by integrating nuclear and fossil gas into his green taxonomy, he only messed up the game.

The European Commission has just left the door open for the use of nuclear energy and fossil gas as energy sources that can play a role in the energy transition. It’s through “additional delegated act concerning the climatic objectives of the taxonomy” that this new position was formalized on February 2, 2022, after intense months of lobbying by Member States. The Green Taxonomy is indeed a reference document to help private investors identify the most favorable technologies to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

In the field of energy production, the taxonomy previously covered only renewable sources and their associated systems (urban networks, cogeneration, storage, heat pumps). With this new delegated act, the Commission grants space to two historical giants who are having difficulty in their downgrading in the technology hierarchy of the future.

To justify itself, the Commission emphasizes the relative advantages of the two solutions. Nuclear power would decarbonise electricity generation in countries seeking large outputs without developing too many renewable energy sources. Fossil gas could be a quick alternative to coal. In return, and to protect against being overly harsh, the Delegated Taxonomy Act specifies the terms:

  • By 2035, fossil gas should reduce CO2 emissions and be replaced by renewable or low-carbon sources; replace coal-fired power plants when it is not possible to develop renewable energy sources; be used in high efficiency cogeneration plants or in district heating networks.
  • The nuclear sector must apply the highest standards of safety and waste management; it is limited in time to extend the life of existing power plants (2040) or build new power units of the EPR type (2045) and must develop technologies 4as well as generation (fast neutron reactors, very high temperature, supercritical water or molten salt reactors).

Well-Known Clean Technologies

The Commission’s approach has been criticized by many players, in particular environmental NGOs: how can funding be channeled to the use of greenhouse gas and technology that creates radioactive waste for thousands of years? This choice – apart from the fact that it suits some countries, such as France for nuclear energy and Germany for gas – does not seem to fit the vision of a clean technology society to meet its needs. and more economical in terms of energy and materials.

The approach of the European Commission is all the more paradoxical because in October 2021, during the presentation of the state of the Energy Union, it put forward an analysis of the competitiveness of clean technologies. She notes that Europe continues to be at the forefront of the world in several areas of clean energy research, while showing a positive trend in patent filings. The EU also benefits from a strong position in the wind energy industry and a strong position in emerging markets for which industrial production sites can be established across Europe: photovoltaic cells, electric batteries, heat pumps, heating fuels, renewable origin, smart grids, green hydrogen. There are no traces of nuclear and fossil gas on this list.

And now is not the time to slow down. The Commission does point out in its report that innovative technologies that facilitate the energy transition are sometimes weakened by a strong global competitive environment and often find it difficult to reach the mass market. To pass this milestone and increase in size, at least three conditions are necessary. First of all, start-ups should not be held back by inadequate regulations that could prevent, for example, photovoltaic solar energy from supporting its own consumption or the birth of energy communities. Further, they must have access to sufficient domestic demand for development: this concerns, for example, heat pumps in buildings. Finally, clean technologies need private funding to support their development.

The taxonomy proved to be good news, as it clearly defined technologies—each with its own advantages and limitations—in the eyes of investors. But by now, including nuclear and fossil gas in the taxonomy, there is reason to fear that the weight of these two giants will slow down the rapid adoption of clean technologies by capturing funding and markets. The transition pie exists, but wanting to cut it into too many pieces doesn’t guarantee that everyone will survive.