1. Introduction

The EU is building an energy union that ensures Europe's energy supply is safe, viable and accessible to all. In doing so, it can boost the economy and attract investments that contribute to regional development, growth and jobs.
Fulfilling these objectives requires wiser energy use and effective measures to fight climate change. The EU's Energy Union Strategy, put forward in 2015, is made up of five closely related and mutually reinforcing dimensions:
  1. Security, solidarity and trust
  2. A fully-integrated internal energy market
  3. Energy efficiency
  4. Climate action - decarbonising the economy
  5. Research, innovation and competitiveness
EU cohesion policy makes a key contribution to delivering the Energy Union objectives on the ground, in particular through significant financial allocations from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the Cohesion Fund (CF), totalling around EUR 69 billion over the current investment period 2014-2020, complemented by national public and private co-financing, for investments related to all five dimensions of the Energy Union Strategy.

Measures supported

Cohesion policy provides significant support to EU Countries, regions and cities through investments in a wide range of areas supporting the Energy Union objectives: 
  • Increasing energy efficiency performance, in particular in buildings, including housing, and also in enterprises, with a focus on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
  • Promiting research and innovation in the energy and low-carbon sectors, based on smart specialisation strategies.
  • Boosting sustainable energy production by developing endogenous renewable energy sources, thereby also addressing security of supply. 
  • Developing and implementing smart distribution systems. Some EU Countries are also using cohesion policy to invest in large smart energy infrastructure, in order to reinforce their interconnections, upgrade to smart grids, improve energy efficiency and integrate more renewable energy.
  • Supporting the move towards an energy-efficient, decarbonised transport sector, including sustainable urban mobility and other low-carbon transport such as rail, seaports and inland waterways.
The detailed allocations to specific actions are set out in more detail below, together with information on progress in delivering the planned investments and the achievements year on year. 
EU Countries are also encouraged to increase the leverage of EU and national public funding through the development of financial instruments (such as ‘renovation loans’ or other revolving funds) and through the use of Energy Performance Contracting to strengthen private sector involvement. The planned allocations from the ERDF and the CF to financial instruments under the low-carbon thematic objective are around EUR 4 billion, with the majority for energy efficiency objectives.

Coal regions in transition

The transformation to a climate neutral economy can have an overall positive impact for the EU economy. Nevertheless, the shift away from traditional sectors, such as coal, also comes with a number of challenges, and could increase social and regional disparities. This is why this deep modernisation process needs to be managed well, ensuring a fair and socially acceptable transition for all.
Within the framework of the Energy Union, cohesion policy is also contributing to initiatives such as support to coal regions in transition. The objective is to help these regions in planning for the structural changes linked to their energy transition and cater for potential negative socioeconomic impacts. The 2014-2020 cohesion policy programmes invest in a wide range of areas that contribute to growth and jobs in EU coal regions. For instance, the potential resources available have been estimated with regard to the current 18 pilot regions of the initiative in 8 EU Countries, at around EUR 32 billion.

2. Investments in energy efficiency and low-carbon research and innovation ... 

...with progress in investment by intervention

Examples of projects in the energy efficiency field:

Construction of Gymnasium of Põlva, in Estonia
The EU-funded school was built as part of Estonia’s strategy to provide varied secondary education across the country, offering courses in five disciplines: culture, science, mathematics, social and general. Combining innovation with education, a public secondary school building in the small Estonian town of Pölva offers 67 courses and can teach up to 272 students. But, unlike most secondary schools, this one boasts something quite special – the school is almost completely energy neutral, thanks to the EU-funded project ‘Construction of gymnasium of Pölva’.
 "CoRDEES" project in Paris, France
The Metropolis of Greater Paris is expected, by 2030, to have over 11 million inhabitants and raise overall energy consumption by 30%. Paris is at the center of this Metropolis and is facing high urban density, traffic congestion and both an energy and a climate crisis. The Co-Responsibility in District Energy Efficiency & Sustainability - "CoRDEES" project aims to achieve a breakthrough by propoposing to combine three main solutions in an integrated approach. The aim is to reach the energy efficiency objective of 50 kW/h per square meter and 90 % less CO2 emissions.

3. Investments in renewable energy, storage and smart grids...

...with progress in investment by intervention

Examples of projects in the renewable energy field:

“Îlot Allar Moderate-Temperature Water Network” in Marseille, France
The pilot eco-district of Îlot Allar, in Marseille is testing an innovative thermal smart grid – powered by 75 % renewable energy – to deliver both heat and air-conditioning to buildings in the area using energy from the sea surrounding the port of Marseille. Îlot Allar houses buildings made from sustainable construction materials and an energy-efficient thermal grid, supported by digital outreach to help citizens become more efficient about their energy consumption. The energy network, called Massileo, is a temperate water loop connecting the sea-water energy-recovery station in Marseille’s harbour to heat pumps in the urban districts. From the pumps, the energy provides buildings with heat, cool air and hot water. 
Near-surface Geothermal Resources in the Territory of the Alpine Space (NSGE) - "GRETA"
The "GRETA" project aims to demonstrate the potential of near-surface Geothermal Resources in the Territory of the Alpine Space (NSGE) and to share its knowledge to foster the integration of this technology into future energy plans in the area at different administrative levels. The main results of the project are decision support tools (geothermal potential maps, guidelines for energy planning), legal and technical guidelines for the utilization of NSGE, based on an exchange of best practices. These results will encourage the implementation of NSGE into policy instruments (such as energy plans) at different administrative levels and will raise the awareness of the potential of this low carbon energy source among different stakeholders.

4. Investments in an energy-efficient, decarbonised transport sector...

...with progress in investment by intervention


Examples of projects in the transport field:

Railway line in Croatia between Zapreśic and Zabok rebuilt and electrified
A 23.9-km section of single-track railway between the city of Zapreśic in Croatia’s Zagreb County and the town of Zabok in Krapina-Zagorje County is being rebuilt and electrified with support from EU funding. The Zaprešić-Zabok section of railway forms part of the Zagorje regional railway line linking Zaprešić with the city of Čakovec, close to the borders with Slovenia and Hungary.  The line forms part of a key commuter corridor, providing a link with Zagreb. By increasing the capacity of an important connection with Zagreb, the project will contribute to economic development in an area that is already expected to grow significantly in the medium term. Electrification will also bring environmental benefits by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and noise. In addition, the refurbishment will strengthen the rail network in Croatia as a whole and enhance the competitiveness of the railways as a means of passenger transport.
Sofia's metro system undergoes new expansion
Having opened in 1998, the Sofia Metro has expanded in recent years thanks to a series of EU-funded projects. The extension of the Sofia metro system was one of the biggest transport projects supported by the EU in the 2007-2013 programming period which is also continued in the 2014-2020 period. Now, a third line is being added. The goal is to make the metro the main transport system in Sofia, reduce congestion and improve connections with other European, national and local transport modes, particularly railways. The extension of Sofia’s Metro’s lines 1 and 2 was a response to an increasing population and car ownership, and resulting congestion. These extensions gave a further 190 000 residents easy access to the Metro. The third phase brought the airport and the business park within reach of the central business district. These three phases created around 3 500 jobs during construction, with nearly 1 000 people operating the services.

5. Expected results and how to track them

The project examples above are a small selection of the actions implemented in the framework of cohesion policy which are expected to have a direct positive impact on peoples' lives (homes will be renovated to reduce energy use) and on businesses (energy efficiency measures in companies). Positive impacts on European citizens are also expected by the reduced energy consumption of public buildings, the increase of renewable energy production and improved, cleaner and more efficient public transport networks.
Some of the expected results and progress in achieving them are summarized in the following graphs: 

Energy savings ... 

New renewable capacity ... 

Households with improved energy classification ...

Firms supported for energy efficiency and low-carbon ...

Reconstructed rail track ...

New or improved tram or metro lines ..

6. Looking ahead

For the next investment period 2021-2027, currently under preparation, a specific policy objective dedicated to a greener, low-carbon Europe has been proposed, including a focus on a clean and fair energy transition. The aims of this policy objective will be to:
  • Promote energy efficiency, renewable energy and smart energy systems, grids and storage at local level
  • Propote climate change adaptation, risk prevention and disaster resilience
  • Promote sustainable water management
  • Promote the transition to a circular economy
  • Enhance biodiversity, green infrastructure in the urban environment, and reduce pollution

7. Further reading

Contact

We are REGIO's sustainable growth team. Contact us at: REGIO-G1-HEAD-OF-UNIT@ec.europa.eu 
European Commission, Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy, Smart and Sustainable Growth