Renewables Scorecard for Europe to Guide Expansion

A new report from the European Environment Agency identifies factors that influence the success of renewable energy projects, and explains why wind energy has grown faster in Germany than in Britain or why solar panels have expanded more quickly in Spain than in Greece.

COPENHAGEN, Denmark, DK, 2001-12-20 [] The report, ‘Renewable energies: success stories,’ was produced to facilitate greater use of renewable energy and to contribute to efforts by the European Union and its member states to meet targets for increasing power from renewables by 2010. It focuses on how each EU country managed to expand its use between 1993 and 1999 of solar PV panels, solar thermal heating, wind and certain uses of biomass. The EU has set a target of producing 12 percent of its energy (both electricity and heat) and 22.1 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2010. For a country to be considered a success in the report, its use of a renewable technology had to show at least one of the following: an absolute increase equivalent to at least 10 percent of the total EU-wide increase in output of that technology over the six-year period, or a percentage increase in output that is higher than the EU average for that technology over the period. The study identifies essential elements for success in seven areas: political, legislative, fiscal, financial and administrative support, technological development, and information, education and training. The key to success lies in the combined effect of support measures, rather than in any single factor, the report concludes. Winning combinations vary from one technology to another, and successes include the expansion of solar thermal energy and biomass-fed district heating in Austria, wind energy and biomass in Denmark, PV, solar thermal and wind in Germany, PV and wind in Spain, and biomass district heating in Sweden. The feed-in law has given a great impetus to wind energy, and this system combines commercially favourable guaranteed feed-in tariffs with an obligation on utilities to purchase renewable electricity at these tariffs. Denmark, Germany and Spain use the feed-in system, and contributed 80 percent of new wind energy output in the EU from 1993 to 1999. The use of solar photovoltaics expanded significantly in member states that provided a high level of support to projects through feed-in arrangements, the most successful being Germany and Spain. Successful penetration occurred where feed-in support initiatives were implemented with capital subsidy programs to encourage uptake of the technology. Germany was identified as a winner and, to a lesser extent, Spain. The main alternative to feed-in mechanisms is a competitive tendering process, which is used in Britain and Ireland to support a range of technologies, including wind and biomass, and by France to support wind energy. The U.K. is adding a Renewables Obligation to its tendering system, under which suppliers are legally obliged to provide an increasing proportion of supplies from renewable sources, and the report says France is replacing its competitive tendering process with a system similar to the feed-in law. Energy related taxation has significant effects on the growth of renewables, notes the report, with Austria, Denmark, Finland, Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden using some form of taxation to penalize the use of fossil fuels or other environmentally damaging activities. Swedish taxation helped expand both biomass district heating and biomass cogeneration plants by making coal-fired options more expensive. An alternative fiscal approach developed in other countries is to allow various tax exemptions or reductions for those who invest in or use renewables. The installation of solar thermal water heating systems has been stimulated by this approach in Greece, while individual investors in wind energy benefit from tax exemptions in Germany and Sweden, while Dutch companies benefit from accelerated depreciation for investment in energy-saving schemes that include renewable projects. The study concludes that renewable generators need grid access to distribute their power, and this requires establishment of transparent and reasonable charging structures so they can operate successfully within the electricity supply system. Member states that took the biggest steps to address problems of grid access achieved the greatest levels of renewable electricity penetration during the 1990s, especially for smaller scale renewable energy projects. “This report helps point the way towards solutions; it demonstrates the European Environment Agency’s determination not only to provide information to support better policy-making but also to gather and disseminate ‘best practice’ information for actors on the ground to use,” says executive director Domingo Jiménez-Beltrán. “The study also creates a framework that can be used by others to promote renewables and communicate about success stories.” “I hope it will become the seed for the creation of a clearing house for experiences in how best to promote renewable energies at many levels, from national to local,” he adds.
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