Action required before more targets -- EU renewables review

A European action plan for offshore wind is among a number of concrete proposals by the European Commission after its assessment of the uptake of renewables in member states shows that the EU will fall short of its 2010 targets. With current national policies and support measures, the Commission predicts the original EU15 member countries will achieve only a "meagre" 18-19% of EU electricity consumption from renewable energy sources, rather than the planned 22% target. In terms of overall energy consumption, renewables are on track to supply no more than 9%, well short of the 12% target for the fifteen countries that made up the EU before its recent expansion.

Only four countries look likely to meet their targets -- Germany, Denmark, Spain and Finland -- states the Commission in its official report on the progress of EU renewable energy policies. Several other countries have recently adopted new measures that could allow them to meet their targets, particularly Italy and the UK. Greece and Portugal, deemed to be "not on track," come bottom of the class.

The Commission claims to have played its part in creating a legal framework through support programs, directives and regulations at community level to stimulate renewables. It is now up to member states to deliver the investment needed, it says.

Wind's success story

Wind is the big success story among the renewable technologies, with installed capacity far exceeding earlier forecasts. But its impressive growth is due to just three countries -- Germany, Spain and Denmark -- which account for 84% of wind generation in the EU15. The wind sector's success does not outweigh the poor performance of biomass. In its 1997 renewable energy white paper, the Commission expected biomass to contribute 68% of the growth in renewables by 2010, with 24% from wind. Now wind's strong growth means it is expected to contribute 50%; 10% is expected from small hydro, geothermal and photovoltaics. That leaves biomass providing 40% if Europe is to meet its targets.

According to Beatriz Yordi of the Commission's Directorate-General of Transport and Energy (DG Tren), there is nothing surprising about wind's success in some countries. "It is pure determinism; if you want to do it, it works. The three reasons are attractive support systems, removal of barriers and guarantee of fair grid access." Highlighting the importance of administrative barriers such as consenting and licensing, she points out that Greece has over 3000 MW of projects with first-step approval, yet just 375 MW has been installed. Yordi's comments were delivered at the global renewable energy conference held in Bonn, Germany, last month (page 40).

In a number of "concrete actions" at European and national levels, the Commission proposes bringing in an action plan for biomass by the end of 2005, encouraging support for renewables through Community structural funds and the Common Agricultural Policy, and focusing its research spending on bringing renewable technologies to the market.

It also plans to introduce a policy for offshore wind. This will look into strengthening the grid infrastructure to take output from offshore wind farms and deal with barriers and potential problems, such as building permits, interference with bird life and conflicts of interest with the shipping industry. The Commission will support research and development into offshore applications including turbine technology.

On the heated issue of targets, the Commission refuses to be rushed into setting a goal of 20% of energy from renewables by 2020 as urged by the European parliament and the European Wind Energy Association. Instead it intends to take time to review the impact of renewable energy use on the relative competitive ability of European industry, on security of supply in the EU, and on renewables' contribution to environmental goals before setting a target in 2007 for the period after 2010.

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