Last week at the “Solar platform” test site in Almeria, Spain, the European Commission presented the current state of its research programs in alternative energy sources, including solar thermal, wave and geothermal energy.Brussels, Belgium – March 26, 2004 [SolarAccess.com] World energy consumption will double over the next 50 years, with Europe currently depending heavily on foreign energy sources. Currently, 41% of EU energy consumption is based on oil, followed by gas (23%), coal (15%), nuclear (15%) and only 6% is based on renewable energies. The threat of global climate change and the warnings about energy security will force Europe to drastically change and diversify its sources of supply, relying more and more on renewable energy, said the EC. The EU has set out a strategy to double the share of renewable energy, from the present 6% to 12% by 2010. Within its 6th Research Framework Programme (FP6 2003-2006) the EU will devote ý810 million (US$982 million) to renewable energy sources. The projects the EC showcased include “European Hot Dry Rock” using geothermal energy, “Wave Dragon” using wave energy, and “Sol Air” using solar thermal. “Although fossil fuels will stay with us for a long time, we have to develop alternative energy sources to make Europe’s economic growth really sustainable,” said European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin. “Wave, geothermal and solar energy are promising but still represent a relatively small share of the overall energy balance. More research is needed to make them really cost-effective and encourage their take up alongside other alternatives energy sources. Projects presented today by the Commission show this is feasible. More research coupled with other incentives, such as tax breaks and better access to capital, can boost their use and make Europe not only cleaner, but also more competitive.” Many alternatives for Europe So far, the EU conducts research and technological development on several renewable energy technologies such as wind, biomass, solar photovoltaic, concentrated solar thermal, ocean (wave, tide and osmosis) and geothermal. Last week’s briefing shows Europe’s leadership in developing and implementing research and technology transfer in geothermal, concentrated solar thermal and wave energies. Geothermal energy Geothermal energy makes use of the natural heat of the earth, and is therefore available to consumers at any time of the day or night, independent of weather and climate conditions. In Europe, about 95,000 dwellings are heated by geothermal energy. It has the capacity to generate about 1000 MW of electric power and has already been installed in Europe. The EU project “European Hot Dry Rock” was presented at the briefing. The project (with partners from France, Germany, Italy and Switzerland), uses widened natural fracture systems and injects water at high pressure that is then heated and returned to the earth’s surface via several production wells. A heat exchanger transfers energy to a second circuit that drives a turbine generator to produce electricity. Europe is currently the world leader in this technology. The European test site is located in Soultz-sous-Forýt, France. (see link below) Ocean energy Ocean energy makes use of tidal effects or waves to produce energy. The European teams developing tidal current devices, which extract energy from the sea current generated by tides, are world leaders. No other developers have shown progress beyond the theoretical drawing board. Two systems, producing 300 kW each, are currently being tested. The teams developing wave energy devices, which convert the movement of waves into useable energy, are also leading the world in this area. The EU research project Wave Dragon, presented at the briefing, is the world’s first offshore wave energy converter producing power for the grid in Denmark. The project team includes partners from Austria, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Sweden, & the UK. Moored in water, the 237 ton Wave Dragon recuperates energy that is generated by ‘overtopping’ waves. The water is initially stored in a reservoir and then passed through turbines which produce electricity. This prototype is a quarter the quarter of the size of the full system. In comparison with traditional hydroelectric power stations, this new technology is competitive. Plans to build and deploy power production units elsewhere in the EU are already underway. (see link below for more information). Concentrated solar thermal energy Concentrated solar thermal energy uses optical systems to use direct sunlight to generate heat. European consortia are taking the lead by developing new components and new concepts: the Sol Air Project uses mirrors to redirect the sun’s energy towards a ceramic receptor that heats air which is, in turn, used to heat water. The vapor of the water then activates turbines which produce electricity. The EC said the European industry is now the owner of this particular technology, which is unique worldwide. In the future, the size of solar power plants using central tower technology may vary from 10 MW to 100 MW, depending on the demand and on the land available. The potential of this new technology is great and participants at the briefing were shown what is effectively an active ‘solar power station’. The project team includes partners from Spain, Germany, Greece and Denmark.