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Analysis: Optimism as industry skirts political issues at EWEA 2014

EUROPE: The mood at the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) wind energy conference and exhibition in Barcelona on 10-13 March 2014 was upbeat, despite the current dismal plight of the Spanish wind sector.

The CEOs panel at EWEA 2014
The CEOs panel at EWEA 2014

"There is a good spirit of optimism, lots of decision makers at the conference and the best EWEA conference for years for Siemens, with lots of relevant meetings," enthused Jan Kjaersgaard, Siemens Wind Power's new global onshore CEO.

But the important political hot topics of the day were not thoroughly tackled. EWEA set the alarm bells ringing on the European Commission's energy and climate package plans to 2030, but discussion of the issues was largely chopped into one-line statements or five-minute contributions at podium discussions, without a clear picture emerging of what is at stake.

As a case in point, an EWEA-organised business statement for a binding renewables energy target in the 2030 framework urged for a "strong and ambitious regulatory framework for the years to come" and was signed by 151 European companies and associations.

But what an "ambitious" target should be was left unclear. Portuguese secretary of state for energy Artur Trinidade called for a 40% renewable energy target compared with the European Commission's "unambitious 27%", but EWEA itself described 30% as "more ambitious". It was unclear how 3% could make that much difference.

Nor was the potential effect explored of a situation without legally-binding national renewables targets after 2020. Without these, EU member states may no longer have clear grounds for supporting their individual renewables sectors. This could make it harder to have national support mechanisms rubberstamped by the European Commission.

The important European Commission Guidelines on environmental and energy aid for 2014-2020, probably to be adopted on 9 April 2014, could also heavily affect wind energy generation support in Europe, but these were little discussed at the conference.

Another area the conference did not cover in depth was the effect of the current considerable overcapacity in the conventional generation market in Europe, and whether planned and existing capacity markets will affect the wind sector.

Emissions trading

Discussion of what the commission's planned 40% CO2 reduction target to 2030 compared with the 1990 level means for wind was also neglected. The European Commission itself admits that in the aftermath of the severe economic crisis, emissions trading suffers "a structural imbalance between supply and demand, resulting in a 2 billion allowance surplus not needed for compliance".

The effect of so-called "backloading" — taking 900 million tonnes worth of allowances out of the market now and returning them towards the end of this trading period — and the proposed "market stability reserve" mechanism for 2020 to 2030 to stabilise CO2 emissions allowance prices were not discussed. Whether the likely continuing low price of carbon allowances will create the "pull" mechanism for renewables growth, as anticipated by the European Commission, remained an open question.

In future, the driving force may no longer be renewables targets, but instead the indirect effect of air quality concerns and the 2011 industrial emissions directive prompting closure of conventional power plants, combined with state-aid for the environment, suggested Francesco Gazzoletti, EWEA board director and head of international affairs at Italian oil refining and renewables company ERG.

Aside from such regulatory issues and amidst the escalation of the Ukraine-Crimea crisis, several conference speakers highlighted the bigger contribution that wind could make to reducing European fossil fuel imports from politically unstable regions. "The biggest enemy of (Russian gas giant) Gazprom is renewables in Europe," said Paolo Frankl, head of the renewable energy division at the International Energy Agency.

Beyond Europe

From outside Europe, however, the outlook for wind in countries with growing energy markets was optimistic. South Africa was a case in point. "We like to call it a rocket launch with a very long countdown," said Johan van den Burg, CEO of the country's wind association. There is 650MW of wind installations due within five months, another 550MW within 12 months and, beyond that, 500-1,000MW per year for maybe the next 20 years, he said.

Turkey expects to expand from 2.7GW today to 20GW by 2023, according to Hasan Murat Mercan, Turkish deputy minister of energy and natural resources. And Brazil too sees wind capacity growing strongly, to 13.75GW by 2018 compared with 3.5GW in 2013, said Lauro Fiuza, vice president of Brazilian wind energy association Abeeolica. So it seems the emerging markets will help to balance wind's problems in Europe over the coming years.

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