Special Report Europe 2020 - The renewables directive - Wind leads green energy future

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Fifteen months ago, in December 2007, all three sides of the cumbersome EU legislative process forged an historic agreement on a greener future for Europe. The elected European Parliament and the Energy Council - representing the national governments - agreed to a proposal from the Commission, the EU executive arm, for 20% of all energy consumed in the EU to come from renewables by 2020. This means that for the first time ever, Europe's countries will have a legally binding renewable energy target, enshrined in EU law. The target forms part of the EU's 20-20-20 climate and energy package which also includes a 20% cut in carbon dioxide and a 20% improvement in energy efficiency by 2020.

The achievement of 27 countries signing up to binding targets should not be underestimated. In the lead-up to the final agreement, several were jockeying for less onerous targets or for nuclear capacity to be included as "clean" electricity. But thanks to Europe's "co-decision" process, where compromise is not considered to be shameful backtracking as it is in some cultures, a new renewable energy directive was agreed within 11 months of the Commission unveiling its proposal. The law follows on from a 2001 renewables directive which set "indicative" national targets to reach an overall EU goal for electricity generation alone of 12% to come from renewables.

Each individual national target was calculated partly on the available renewable resource in each country and partly on GDP. Richer states shoulder a higher proportion of the cost in meeting the targets. For those with difficulty meeting their targets within their own borders, the directive contains a level of flexibility.

Facilitating the target

Although the law falls short of allowing the full cross-border trade in renewable certificates, or credits, that some organisations and the Commission had wanted, it does allow for co-operation between countries on "statistical transfers" of renewable energy, on joint projects so that a renewables plant in one state will be able count towards national targets in one or more others, or even on co-ordinating national support mechanisms to share renewables targets. In addition, member countries will be able to co-operate on joint projects with countries outside the EU, provided that any arrangements are linked to a physical exchange of electricity. To speed up delivery, the directive demands that permitting processes are streamlined with clear and defined timetables for authorising renewables plants. And it requires countries to develop the necessary grid infrastructure and guarantee either priority access or, at the least, fair access for renewables.

Now it is up to the EU's 27 member states to flesh out their shares of the ambitious goal. Each has until the end of June 2010 to come up with an action plan setting targets for the three sectors - electricity, heating and cooling, and transport - that make up the overall national target. The new renewables directive sets out a clear trajectory with interim targets to map their progress towards the 2020 goals. Countries are free to decide the relative contributions from the different sectors, but at least 10% of transport must be powered by renewables; this could take the form of biofuels or electric cars and trains.

Mostly down to wind

Electricity is the energy sector that will be required to contribute the greatest share of the target, meaning that over one-third of the EU's power will be generated from renewables, a doubling from the 16% operating today. With limited potential for additional large-scale hydro, wind will be the technology doing the most. According to the Commission's 2007 renewable energy roadmap, by 2020 it will have overtaken large hydro to contribute around 34% of all renewable electricity, or 12% of EU electricity, up from 4.2% today. If the potential targets being worked on nationally are met - and if expectations of energy efficiency efforts are fulfilled - 15% of the EU's electricity could come from wind by 2020. That will require another 419 TWh (pages 20-21) of wind generation in addition to the 155 TWh today. Two thirds is expected to be built onshore and one third offshore.

The European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) is forecasting 180 GW of installed wind power by 2020, 145 GW onshore giving 344 TWh a year and 35 GW offshore generating an annual 133 TWh. Increased energy efficiency could boost wind's share to 14%, it says. But EWEA's Christian Kjaer points out that these scenarios do not take into account the new renewables directive. The binding targets create an unprecedented stable legal framework for renewables in member states - ideal for stepping up wind activity. "So 12% of EU energy from wind is not ambitious at all," he says. "It will not require a great deal of effort in terms of new installations, supply chain or manufacturing capacity to reach it."

Kjaer points out that to reach 180 GW will require just 1 GW more being installed each year up to 2020 than the 8.5 GW achieved in the EU 27 last year. That can easily be met by the increased activity the industry is already seeing in second mover countries, such as Italy, France and the UK, he says. Offshore will require further efforts to create incentives for companies to build and operate power grids and make a profit, Kjaer says. He welcomes the money set aside in the EU's economic recovery package for this purpose and the blueprint for a North Sea grid (see Windpower Monthly, March 2009).

Janice Massy, Windpower Monthly.

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