A new industrial revolution is underway in Europe — the push by heads of state and governments across the continent to usher in more renewable energy. The 27 nations there agreed to meet 20 percent of their overall energy needs with green energy by 2020.
The overarching goal is to achieve more energy independence and in doing so, move away from fossil-fired fuels that contribute much of the dirty emissions as well as carbon dioxide that is tied to global warming. Each member state will have to set national objectives, adopt action plans and determine sector-specific targets.
Wind has a leg up. It represents one-third of all new generation capacity installed in Europe between 2002 and 2006. In fact, the continent gets more than 3 percent of its electricity from wind, produced by 50,000 megawatts (MW) of installed capacity. Last year was a record, with more than 7,500 MW of new wind farms being constructed, a 23 percent increase over 2005. By 2020, 180,000 MW could be operating.
“If the new European target is achieved, more than a third of Europe’s power will be renewably sourced by the end of the next decade,” says Peter Ahmels, President of the German Wind Energy Association. “This has sent a clear political signal. It is no less than the beginning of a second industrial revolution.”
Germany and Spain continue to attract the majority of investments. In 2006, these two countries represented 50 percent of the EU market. With 2,233 MW installed during 2006, Germany passed the 20,000 MW mark. Spain was the second largest market in 2006, with 1,587 MW of new development. France was third, with 810 MW installed capacity during the year. Denmark is also a European pioneer, with at least 20 percent of its generation capacity already coming from wind energy.
The European Wind Energy Association says that wind power can contribute 16 percent of the required 20 percent green energy mix. But it maintains that a viable legal framework is necessary along with clear guidelines to market participants for the future direction of renewable electricity in Europe. In addition, it says that fair grid access for new entrants is also a prerequisite.
Leaders across the continent get excellent grades for their positive attitudes. But their optimism has been somewhat doused by the European Commission. In a roadmap released in January, the governing body says that the European Union (EU) looks unlikely to hit the 10 percent mark by 2010 because renewable energy forms are still costly, relative to fossil fuels. The commission goes on to say that wind energy could provide 12 percent of the EU’s electricity by 2020 if national strategies are developed.
Getting to that threshold won’t be a breeze either. Like other renewable forms of energy, the wind sector must overcome arguments that its costs remain high and its underlying energy form is unreliable. With tax credits, wind can compete with natural gas although it has a difficult time doing so with coal. Nevertheless, the groundswell of support for green energy has encouraged more participants to enter markets and create new innovations. As a result, prices are falling.
European leaders are acknowledging the challenges. But they say that they are committed to change. “Wind technology is not a dream for the future,” says Herrmann Albers, president of the German Bundesverband WindEnergie. “It is real, it is mature and it can be deployed on a large scale—here and now.”
Germany, in fact, is on track to meet its targets. Currently, 5.7 percent of Germany’s electricity comes from wind energy, and 11.7 percent from renewable energies. The nation plans to install new wind plants with a capacity of 10,000 MW, and to replace old turbines to provide an increase of 15,000 MW by 2020.
Beside Germany, Spain and Denmark, other countries are doing their part. Portugal, for example, is on its way to meeting its government target of more than 3,750 MW by 2010. It installed 694 MW of new capacity last year and has another 1,063 MW under construction.
The United Kingdom, meanwhile, installed 634 MW in 2006 and now has close to 2,000 MW of wind capacity. However, wind advocates there say that at least Great Britain must revise some laws if it is to meet the goals set by the EU. And Italy now has 2,500 MW of installed wind capacity. But leaders there say that the nation lacks clear guidelines, making it difficult for developers to take the necessary risks.
A major catalyst behind all of the green endeavors is the will to combat climate change. And advocates of the movement say it makes sense both environmentally and economically, noting that electricity production now accounts for about 40 percent of the world’s emissions. Their cause has been underscored by the leaders of the most developed nations, who at their latest summit discussed cutting global carbon dioxide emissions in half by 2050. If a legally binding target comes to pass, those proponents say it would spur even more renewable energy developments.
“We need to make big changes,” says EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs. “The technology is there and we can master whatever is necessary to achieve climate change and security of supply goals. We should be ambitious … and wind is one of the best ways.”
EU leaders have noble goals backed by philosophical principles. But if those aspirations are to be realized, they must be backed by determination in combination with a practical legal blueprint and realistic timetables.
Ken Silverstein is an award-winning journalist who is the editor-in-chief of Energy Central’s publication, EnergyBiz Insider. With a background in economics and public policy, he has spent several years writing about the issues that touch the energy and financial sectors, and his work has been published in more than 100 periodicals.
Republished with permission from CyberTech, Inc. EnergyBiz Insider is published three days a week by Energy Central. For more information about Energy Central, or to subscribe to EnergyBiz Insider, other e-newsletters and EnergyBiz magazine, please go to http://www.energycentral.com/.