Europe banks on wind to make targets reality

EUROPE: Some goals are set without a plan to reach them. EU member states agreed in December 2007 that 20% of all energy consumed in the union is to come from renewables by 2020. Two-and-a-half years later many countries are struggling to decide how to meet the national targets that will enable the EU to meet this goal. Indeed, the only member state to make the June 30 deadline for the submission of National Renewable Energy Action Plans (NREAPs) to the European Commission (EC) was the Netherlands, according to the EC.

For other countries that later submit their final or draft plans, wind power emerged as a leading source of renewable energy, and one that will help certain states exceed their target - a factor that will stand them in good stead should the EC raise the emissions reduction target to 30%, as advocated by many inside the commission.

Two weeks after the official deadline, the commission had only officially received and published a handful of NREAPs, namely from Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, Finland, Malta, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the UK. According to an EU official, the plans from Belgium, France and Ireland are on the way. She added that some member states had sent advanced warning that they would be late, while others had filed draft plans, promising the final version in due course. The official confirmed that Brussels is to launch infringement procedures against those countries that miss the deadline. However, such procedures can only be started once a month and the next date will be around mid-September, by which time all 27 member states may have managed to get their acts together.

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The documents that have been submitted show the importance EU governments attach to wind power. The UK, for instance, expects wind energy to supply around 20% of its electricity by 2020. The UK has set a 2020 target of 15% of total energy from renewables - up from just 3% today. While the government has not set fixed targets for the different renewables technologies, it says wind will supply more than two-thirds of renewable electricity from nearly 15GW installed onshore and 13GW offshore.

Heavy use of wind power also features prominently in the plans issued by countries such as Ireland, Spain and Italy. Ireland's draft plan, for example, foresees onshore wind capacity almost doubling to 4.1GW between 2010 and 2020, accounting for 80.7% of total installed renewables capacity. The plan also says that offshore wind capacity will soar by 600% to 252MW by 2013, reaching 555MW by 2020.

A steep rise in power generation from wind is also at the heart of Italy's draft action plan, which claims the country should have 16GW of installed wind capacity by 2020, producing just over 24TWh of electricity annually - 15GW onshore and 1GW from offshore facilities. This is a significant increase on the 2007 forecast for 2020 of 12GW producing 22.6TWh. The Italian plan indicates that wind energy should account for 23% of the country's electricity from renewable sources that year and 6.6% of total forecast electricity consumption, making wind the second-largest renewable source for electricity generation behind the already mature hydroelectric power sector.

Wind power production in Spain will almost double by 2020, according to its renewables action plan, which suggests that 22.7% of final energy consumption will be from renewable sources, exceeding the country's 20% target. The government forecasts that wind generating capacity will grow from 20GW to 38GW - an important increase, yet 2GW lower than the previous, unofficial target.

Building boom

Elsewhere, wind also stands tall in the EU renewables sector's 2020 strategy. The Romanian draft action plan, for example, sees the country arriving at the 2020 deadline with 4GW of installed wind capacity producing 8.4GWh of electricity each year. This would represent a giant leap forward from the 14MW of installed capacity at the end of 2009 and put wind as the country's second-most important renewable energy source for electricity behind hydroelectric power. Meanwhile, Cyprus foresees 300MW of installed wind capacity by 2020, producing 499GWh of electricity a year. The island's first wind farm will bring 82MW online this year. Likewise, the Slovak Republic's draft action plan sees its installed wind capacity rising from today's 5MW to 350MW by 2020, with electricity production from wind farms jumping from 7GWh to 560GWh.

This pattern is repeated across Europe, although Bulgaria is unusual in that it relies on onshore wind farms to provide the renewables capacity to meet its 2020 target. On the other hand, the Polish Wind Energy Association has urged its government to scrap its renewables plan and start again, claiming that wind energy's envisaged 8.6% share of total electricity consumption by 2020, all onshore, is significantly below its potential capacity.

Poland is not alone in being criticised for a lack of ambition. Environmental and green energy lobbyists, including the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA), are disappointed that the EC has not chosen to up its emissions reduction target to 30%, given a recent study by the EU executive that showed it could be achieved at little extra cost given the effects of the economic downturn. The analysis said the 10% increase would add EUR33 billion (0.2% of GDP), bringing the cost to EUR81 billon, EUR11 billion more than member states agreed to pay to achieve a 20% cut.

The EU says the additional costs would be offset by benefits in terms of energy security, air quality and jobs, but European leaders failed to debate the paper at their summit in June, delaying any decision until their next meeting in October. EWEA says the higher target is necessary to maintain the region's technological and industrial leadership in renewables technologies. Christian Kjaer, chief executive of EWEA, says a move to 30% would give a very strong signal to investors that Europe means business when it talks about green growth and a sustainable economy.

Emissions dispute

Italy is among the most vociferous opponents of the 30% target, citing economic reasons, while the UK and France have formally backed it. French ecology minister Jean-Louis Borloo says France is on track to cut CO2 emissions by more than 30% by 2020. UK energy secretary Chris Huhne agrees that 30% is achievable, right for the climate and right for economies as Europe focuses on a sustainable economic recovery - an ambition the UK has noted in its plan.

However, it remains to be seen whether they can win over the dissenters. Despite its tardiness, France, like most other countries, is unlikely to be dragged to court by the commission. Most latecomers intimated that they would have filed their documents by the end of July. Hungary's newly elected government has admitted it will need slightly longer, saying it will be a few months before it is ready. However, it, too, is likely to avoid the wrath of Brussels by finalising its plans by the end of the summer break.

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