The main aim of the Energy Union tour is to compare notes with decision and policy-makers, test the temperature and engage with stakeholders. It is also set up as an opportunity for me to listen and talk to citizens in order to beter understand and address their needs, showcasing the best innovative ideas of European minds.
I am just coming back from Spain and I have to say that the visit went well, beyond my expectations in every aspect. When I entered the crowded room of the European Commission Representation in Madrid not only did I meet with a great audience of entrepreneurs, NGOs and researchers but also European personalities like Javier Solana and my good colleague Minister Alvaro Nadal. For more than two hours we discussed energy, climate, transport, buildings, consumers, innovation, industry, jobs, investment, regional policy, cities, Spain, Europe, the Mediterranean, USA, Russia and new geopolitics. I learned a lot and I am very thankful for the various insights on the internal energy market, LNG and also concrete gaps in our financing policies. One of the main takeaway for me from this debate was made by Minister Nadal about interconnections between Spain and the rest of Europe. Current interconnection rate is way too low and is preventing us from using great Spanish potential in renewables and LNG.
In the afternoon at the Ministry of Public Works (Fomento) we opened an Info-day called “Blending 2017” where we discussed how to use better different financial EU instrument (notably the Connected Europe Facility - transport and the European Fund for Strategic Investments) by combining, leveraging and de-risking them. I very much welcomed that experts from Commission’s Departments for regional development, transport, energy and climate policies and well as representatives of the European Investment Bank (EIB) joined me for this important mission and presented new ways of cooperation at this conference.
I used this opportunity to congratulate Minister Iñigo de la Serna for keeping Spain at the top position in making use of different EU financing tools. For the last 12 years Spain has been No.1 client of the EIB, now securing an average 10 billion euros a year for financing of infrastructural projects. I believe it’s thanks to these types of information sessions, high quality projects pipeline and dedicated investment platforms.
Minister de la Serna is a former Mayor of Santander and was very active in putting in place the Global Covenant of Mayors. We therefore able to quickly delved into the topic of Smart Cities and the fact that in Spain 1,775 (!) cities have signed up for sustainable rules and ambition of the Covenant (which is yet another record, by the way).
Together with Miguel Arias Cañete, the lead Commissioner for Energy and Climate, we also concluded our first day with Ministers Isabel García Tejerina and Luis de Guindos whom we congratulated on renewed robust economic growth. We also explained the importance of National energy and climate plans on which we propose all EU Member States should start working. Ministers agreed about the need of long-term planning not only to meet our Paris 2030 goals but also to modernise the economy and prepare it for carbon-neutral second half of this century.
They presented us with the idea to establish horizontal, cross sectorial, inter-ministerial group to start the strategic work. We expressed our hope and confidence that Spain will be among the first countries to present the draft plan and to achieve that we offered intensive expert support from the Commission. Finally, we discussed the setting up of national investment platforms for building renovations, for which the EIB is currently finalising its assessment in Spain with relevant actors. For this too the reactions were positive and we will follow up with a technical mission between the Commission and relevant ministries, to unleash the entire potential of energy efficiency in Spain. We already have around 2 billion euros allocated for energy efficiency under 2014-2020 cohesion policy, that can be blend with EFSI and other private funds to maximise the impact on housing in Spain, create jobs, growth and fight energy povery.
On the second day we visited fascinating projects in San Sebastian (Basque country) and Pamplona (Navarra). I very much enjoyed the company of Minister Arantxa Tapia of Basque Government and Vice-President of Regional Government of Navarra Mr. Manu Ayerdi.
Mayor of San Sebastian, Mr. Eneko Goia Laso, proudly presented the Replicate project where a neglected suburb will be transformed into near zero emission smart district for young families. San Sebastian is a so-called "lighthouse" city (i.e., one of three leading cities with Florence and Bristol), with followers like Essen, Lausanne and Guangzhou.
In Mutriku we visited a very innovative wave power plant which is not only producing entirely clean energy but is also becoming a tourist attraction because of its architectural design on the sea and whistling of air turbines which have become known as sounds of Dragon. After testing the turbines in Mutriku, a floating wave energy converter is also being placed in the open sea (Bimep).
On our last stop in Pamplona we saw how crucial research and innovation was for companies like Gamesa, Acciona and Ingenteam to become global players. They benefit greatly from state-of-the-art renewable energy research infrastructure and testing center - CENER. To appreciate the magnitude of new wind turbines and its blades or possibilities of new solar and battery technologies you really need to stand next to them!
What was very important for me was the fact that these world class innovations have all been helped and supported by EU regional funds and research programs like the seventh framework programme or Horizon2020. These funds have been well spent and I see them as investments into European global leadership in renewable and smart cities technologies.
To conclude my blog I would like to thank Diego Pavia, head of InnoEnergy (our EU Knowledge Innovation Community for sustainable energy) for introducing to me young start-upists Rajai Aghabi from eolos, Felipe Velasco (Placetherm) and them for presenting new promising business ideas and in particular to Claudio Geyken who established a community of 1000 young ambassadors for Energy transition. They are very active in promoting sustainable policies, innovation and industrial modernisation. Enthousiasm, passion and positive energy of young people is exactly what today’s - and tomorrow's - Europe needs. Thank you for that!