Credibility of EU energy review questioned

The credibility of a European energy review has been cast into doubt by experts who point out that long-term plans to cut carbon emissions are based on an economic model owned by a single Greek university that cannot be independently scrutinised.

Experts have “raised a host of questions” about how the European Commission’s use of a non-transparent model could affect the energy review, according to a leaked report by energy specialists chosen by Brussels to advise on the forthcoming “Energy Roadmap to 2050”.

The economic model, known as “Primes”, is owned by the National Technical University of Athens and is designed to show how using different mixes of energy sources affect the wider economy. The European Commission has used it for many years to help guide the bloc’s energy policies but industry critics complain its assumptions are impossible to question because the model is privately owned. One trade group, Business Europe, has called for the Commission to use other, more transparent models.

The far-reaching nature of the roadmap, which will review the effect of choosing, say, more wind and less nuclear power to meet green targets, has heightened concerns about the model’s transparency, the report by the advisory group shows.

One of the group’s three meetings was “devoted largely” to how the Commission was using the Primes model to produce energy-mix scenarios for the roadmap. “There was considerable debate about the role of fossil-fuel price assumptions [in the Primes model],” said the report. The group is chaired by Oxford University economist Professor Dieter Helm, and includes bodies such as the International Energy Agency.

Questions were also raised about “the costs of different technologies” and “the assumption of perfect foresight by companies, but not by individuals”. But the group’s major concern was “about the transparency of the Primes work, and in particular the property rights in the algorithms and detailed internal workings of the model”. The report is marked “final draft”.

“The model remains the private property of the National Technical University of Athens. The consequence is that independent parties cannot replicate the results. This is a commercial matter for the Commission, but members of the Group pointed out that it does have obvious consequences for the credibility of the roadmap.” The advisory group recommends the Primes model be made publicly available “so that its results can be replicated by interested parties”.

Professor Pantelis Capros, the economist from the National Technical University of Athens who built the Primes model, told the Financial Times he agreed transparency was important and would not mind if some of the model’s workings were made public, “but not the code itself, not the software”.

A spokeswoman for the energy commissioner, Günther Oettinger, said she could not comment on an unpublished document, and the final version of the advisory group’s report would be released with the energy roadmap in December.

Mr Capros has been an energy consultant for many years and has held positions on bodies ranging from Greece’s energy regulator to the Greek Public Power Corporation.

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