If Europe is serious about reducing its dependence on imported fossil fuels and reaching its target for renewable energy (20% of supplies by 2020), policymakers must understand that water is a central component of tomorrow’s energy mix. Water is critical for fuel production and power generation, and hydropower systems can store energy efficiently. Hydropower can meet base load requirements and respond quickly to peaks in electricity demand. Hydropower can also work efficiently as a systems enabler for other intermittent renewable technologies, such as wind, solar and wave power. Yet despite all these benefits, an estimated 40%-70% of Europe’s potential hydropower is not being tapped; the EU’s 2007 Energy Policy did not promote good hydropower development practices, and the EU’s Water Framework Directive focused on environmental quality, rather than water’s energy potential. Clearly, there is an urgent need for policy cohesion on water and energy that does not exist today.
The European Commission’s current “fitness check” on EU freshwater policy provides an important opportunity to recalibrate both energy and water policies to address these interlinked challenges, and to identify how the continent’s indigenous water resources can be used in a sustainable manner to support economic growth. It is also a chance to review how efficient water management can promote the deployment of renewable energy, and to consider how best to increase hydropower production, while still preserving and enhancing natural ecosystems and the goods and services that water provides. If the EU misses such opportunities now, it may face more costly and less appealing alternatives to meet our climate and energy targets in the future.
Jakob Granit is Director of Knowledge Services at Stockholm International Water Institute.
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