Markets to the east are stirring

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Countries in Central and Eastern Europe (CEECs) are reaching a turning point with regard to renewable energy. Concern over both climate change and security of energy supply are bringing several of them to the brink of setting new priorities for development of clean energy resources.

This was the main message of the Renewable Energy Policies for Central and Eastern Europe conference, held in Austria in December. After the event, organisers expressed both surprise and pleasure at the interest shown. The conference, held in Linz, learned that the time is ripe for motivating decision makers in CEECs to become active in renewable energy. The event was held as part of the European Commission's Synergy programme to promote co-operation on energy policy between EU and non-EU countries, especially eastern Europe, southeast Asia and South America. Hosting the event for the European Commission's Directorate General for Energy (DG XVII) was the Ober-Österreich Energiesparverband, an energy saving association.

A good example

The choice of Austria as the venue was deliberate -- and not only because of its geographic proximity to several Synergy initiatives. "At similar conferences in the past, experts from the West have instructed delegates on energy saving and renewable energies. When the participants have asked them about their country's achievements in these areas the answers revealed how small these were," explains organiser Christiane Egger. "Upper Austria is different, we've really done something. Thirty per cent of our energy needs are now supplied by renewable energies." The Ober-Österreich Energiesparverband is also experienced in the transfer of know-how, having operated energy centres in the Czech and Slovak Republic for several years, says Egger.

The aim of the conference was to highlight the potential of renewables in CEECs, to motivate decision makers, to open the markets for European technologies and to open the way for co-operation between EU countries and eastern Europe. The EC's White Paper on renewable energies, released late November (Windpower Monthly, January 1998), was presented in detail by Patrick Lambert of DG XVII, who said a similar strategy was required for the CEECs.

Surprise turnout

About 100 delegates, including representative from the political arena, public administration, industry and science, took part in the conference. They came from Albania, Bulgaria, Rumania, Slovenia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania as well as the EU's 15 member countries. "In the past, such conferences haven't elicited a lot of interest," says Egger. "The great interest and enthusiasm this time came as a surprise." She regrets that many questions from the floor had to remain unanswered "because we were forced to close sessions simply to keep the programme running on time."

The conference concluded that there is a significant potential for developing renewables in all CEECs, but a political commitment, a strategic approach, clear targets and a programme of measures at national level "in both EU member countries and CEECs" are necessary for increasing the market share of renewables.

An end-of-conference statement said that specific solutions for financing renewables investments must be found from different funding sources, and that increasing energy prices across the board will make renewables more competitive over time. The EU and its member countries should seek opportunities to assist and encourage the CEECs wherever possible, "especially by using existing co-operation and technical assistance programmes to the full." Lastly, CEECs should be encouraged to take an active part in the various European renewable energy networks including the renewables industry associations.

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