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Policy conference ends on weak note -- No real debate in Berlin

A new EU target for renewables to meet 20% of Europe's total energy consumption by 2020 appears to be the key recommendation to emerge from last month's renewable energy policy conference in Berlin. But the event, organised by the European Renewable Energy Council (EREC) and the European Commission, fell short of recommending a specific figure. Instead, it merely stated that "a target value of at least 20% of gross inland energy consumption by 2020 for the EU is achievable."

The targets should be accompanied by an action plan, it added. The final declaration of conference conclusions called on EU institutions to start the process of setting ambitious and binding goals for 2020. The aim of the conference, Renewable Energy: Intelligent Policy Options, was to provide input into Europe's position at the International Conference for Renewable Energies in Bonn in June.

Biomass leads

Many of the speakers throughout the event's three days during January 19-21 stressed that renewables could meet 20% of Europe's energy with the right policies in place. An analysis by EREC showed that most of the 20% would come from biomass, with wind contributing 2.4% of total energy. Targets are an essential component of policy, said EREC president Arthouros Zervos. "Energy investments are long-term, and planning for the future needs to begin well in advance," he added.

The conference stressed that the EU's existing target of 12% of energy consumption from renewables by 2010 will only be met if permitting, regulatory and grid barriers are tackled urgently.

The most heated debate at the conference was on the different forms of legislative and regulatory support for renewable energy employed in member countries of the EU. A review of the various support mechanisms is being conducted this year by the Commission, the EU executive. It is seeking to establish which mechanism can best meet EU goals for renewable energy at least possible cost to the consumer. The review may conclude with a proposal for a single support system for renewable across Europe. Individual national legislation has created economic barriers, which limit growth of renewables by preventing the trade of green power over national borders.

Supporters of the German system of mandating the purchase of all green power at a fixed price were out in force at the Berlin event. They argued that mandated premium prices had resulted in more installed wind power capacity in Germany than any other country.

The fixed-price advocates were led by German member of parliament and long time solar campaigner Hermann Scheer. His lack of impartiality in chairing the debate session hampered any genuine exchange of ideas on the advantages and disadvantages of fixed premium prices compared with using competitive market mechanisms to set power prices.

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