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Understanding the absence of renewable electricity imports to the European Union

Johan Lilliestam (Department of Environmental Systems Science, Climate Policy Group, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zürich), Zürich, Switzerland)
Saskia Ellenbeck (Department of Transdisciplinary Concepts and Methods, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), Potsdam, Germany)
Charikleia Karakosta (Management and Decision Support Systems Laboratory, National Technical University of Athens (NTUA), Athens, Greece)
Natàlia Caldés (Department of Energy, Energy System Analysis Unit, CIEMAT, Madrid, Spain)

International Journal of Energy Sector Management

ISSN: 1750-6220

Article publication date: 5 September 2016




This paper aims to analyse reasons for the absence of renewable electricity (RE) imports to the European Union, for which the authors develop a multi-level heuristic.


The heuristic covers three sequential acceptance levels: political attractiveness (macro-level), the “business case” (micro-level) and civil society perspectives (public discourse level).


Numerous factors on all three levels determine the success/demise of renewables trade. So far, trade has failed on the macro-level, because European policymakers perceive that targets can be achieved domestically with significant co-benefits and because exporter countries have rapidly increasing electricity demand, limiting the realisable exports. As policymakers deemed it unattractive, they have not implemented policy-supported business cases. Public opposition against trade has not been an issue as no concrete plans or projects have been proposed.

Research limitations/implications

The authors show that the factors determining whether a RE programme is successful are plentiful and extend far beyond potential cost savings. This suggests that future research and the energy policy debate should better account for how cost savings are weighed against other policy aims and explicitly include the perspectives of investors and the public.


This paper adds the first holistic analysis of success/failure factors for RE trade to Europe. The three-level, sequential framework is new to energy policy analysis.



This work was in part funded by the European Commission’s Intelligent Energy Europe program (BETTER project, IEE/11/845/SI2.616378) and a consolidator grant from the European Research Council (grant agreement 313553).


Lilliestam, J., Ellenbeck, S., Karakosta, C. and Caldés, N. (2016), "Understanding the absence of renewable electricity imports to the European Union", International Journal of Energy Sector Management, Vol. 10 No. 3, pp. 291-311.



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