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Europe Will Not Meet 20% Renewable Energy Target by 2020

In the world of politics and policy decisions, small individual decisions can often produce large collective consequences. In an unfortunate turn of events, this is becoming exceedingly clear in terms of the energy policy originating from Brussels.

It began with a technical error in terms of how solar energy was defined by the European Parliament; and now the collective consequent to the rest of the EU Nations may be that they will not be able to meet their obligations to supply 20 percent of their energy from renewables by 2020, as a result of this error.

The context of the 20 percent Renewable Energy Target is that the operations of buildings — heating, powering and cooling them — account for the largest source of GHG emissions in the European Union, as in most countries.  This is why meaningful reductions in GHG emissions is only possible if the programs that support the policy are effective in terms of targeting the energy used in buildings.

In an inexplicable turn of events, Europe’s Renewable Energy Directive has actively excluded solar air heating from its list of approved solar technologies, despite the fact that it addresses the largest usage of building energy in many countries, which is indoor space and process heating.

The exclusion is even more perplexing given that solar air heating technologies produce the fastest ROI of any solar technology and have been widely used in countries and applications around the world, including a very strong concentration in Canada and the U.S., for the past 20 years for clients such as Sainsbury, Auchan, Wal-Mart, Ford, Jaguar/Land Rover, Toyota, and the United States Military.

The error came to light when the U.K. government recently introduced its Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), which specifically excluded solar air heating. When the omission was brought to the attention of Greg Barker, Minister of State for Green Energy including Heat and RHI, his department responded with: “The primary objective of the RHI is to encourage the installation of renewable heating equipment and generation of renewable heat in order to meet the UK’s share of the EU 2020 renewable energy target. Therefore, the RHI will only include technologies which the European Commission considers to be renewable under the RED.” 

The implication is that the U.K. and the rest of Europe will be unable to meet their 20 percent Renewable Energy Target by 2020 because they have no mechanism in place to target space heating in the commercial, industrial and agricultural sectors. 

Solar electric (PV) and solar water heating systems are considerably more expensive and produce less energy in comparison to solar air heating systems, so the decision to exclude a solar energy technology that is significantly more cost-effective for end user clients is difficult to understand, especially in an era of tight budgets and fiscal restraint.

It also contradicts the stated objectives of the U.K.’s RHI: “We need to work hard to remove the barriers holding back take-up…This support can help drive take-up of renewables now, stimulate the renewables industry, encourage further innovation and ultimately bring down the cost of renewable heating.” 

Unfortunately the RHI will do the opposite. “Viable solar air heating systems are being excluded in lieu of more expensive water-based heating systems just because they are on the “list.” As well as stifling innovation and preventing the widespread uptake in solar heating, this decision will ensure that the UK will be unable to meet their stated renewable energy targets because they are relying on expensive technologies that don’t address one of the largest usages of energy” states John Hollick, who is the inventor of the SolarWall® air heating technology and Chairman of the Solar Air Heating World Industries Association (SAHWIA).

Says Brian Watson, Director at the CA Group in the U.K.; “Cost is something that none of us can ignore and unlike PV, wind farms, and biomass incentives which are expensive, solar air technology [is] low in capital cost and extremely high in operational return providing one of the fastest ROI’s for any renewable energy technology."

Victoria Hollick is the Vice President Operations at Conserval Engineering in Toronto, Canada, which has been instrumental in commercializing and promoting solar air heating around the world for the commercial & industrial sector with their SolarWall® air heating technologies. Victoria has had a life-long interest in solar, and became further interested in effecting environmental and renewable energy policy while completing a graduate degree in economics. She is also on the Board of Directors of the Solar Air Heating World Industries Association (SAHWIA) and the New York Solar Energy Industry Association (NYSEIA).  Victoria can be reached at and she always welcomes comments and questions from readers.

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