Alternative energy sources in Europe to focus on

Alternative energy sources in Europe to focus on

2006. 11. 23.

It seems that efficiency measures cannot offset the projected growth of energy demand of about 15% in the next 20 years while dependence on energy imports is expected to rise to 70% of the total energy consumption. Though meeting our commitments to mitigating global warming remains a demanding task according to these figures, the effect of the recent Russia-Ukraine gas dispute on the security of the natural gas supply in the yearly peak demand period must remind us that resolving some of the import dependence issues needs urgent action on the Community level.

In such an environment energy experts and decision makers alike need to look into all aspects of diversification of energy supply: diversification of energy sources, geographical regions of imports, structure and scales of „energy suppliers”. When exploring and expanding supply alternatives the time frames should be taken into account. Some of the alternative sources to be utilized, especially those requiring large scale infrastructure development or significant R&D might only be available or wide spread in medium or long term. Other options, like distributed generation or some renewable energy sources seem to have a dynamic potential of market penetration, but might be limited in total volume by natural or other factors or constrained to specific sectors or applications.

As all renewable energy sources (RES) reduce import dependence and help overcome global warming, extending capacities and use of all kinds of RES should be encouraged throughout the European Union. It must be noted, however, that specific renewable sources are in various stages of market penetration, technological maturity and economic viability, have different scope of utilisation and require differentiated treatment. The renewable energy industry proved to be one of the most dynamic and vital element of the energy sector creating many new employment opportunities.

Wind energy is clearly a success story. Wind power now possesses a mature market that allows for a short development cycle. As a result significant improvement in the technical and financial efficiency of wind generation might be observed making wind power generation a more and more attractive investment option under current market regulations. The growth of installed capacities reaching a total of 34,600 MW in 2004. outperformed all expectations in Europe. Wind provides an example how viable renewable sources might become in the market. It seems that while wind power generation should be encouraged it does not require further specific measures, but in some countries load balancing, generation and demand peeks, transparent and uniform criteria to access to the grid are still to be addressed not to hinder further improvement in it’s deployment.

Most analysts agree, however, that biomass used for electricity generation and space heating alike is seriously lagging behind expectations. This should clearly be a focus area not only of energy policy, but of the CAP as well as efforts to strengthen small- and medium enterprises. Biomass is still regarded as the renewable energy source with the highest untapped potentials in Europe that cannot be overlooked when trying to meet our goals in energy and climate policies. Biomass can be a sound and long term source of income for agriculture and rural population. Transformation of biomass for modern and convenient space heating for central or individual heating appliances creates a „new energy industry” that provides new opportunities to SMEs operating close to source, where biomass  is most viable economically. There are a range of tasks to improve biomass penetration from adjusting CAP to broaden support for energy users to shift from biomass of natural forests to of agricultural origin to resolve environmental concerns and employment issues. Another task is to provide help and information to SMEs regarding investments linked to biomass. As the transportation sector has a fair share of the energy demand there are targets set for biomass used as automotive fuel.

While there are some regions with efficient programs to broaden both active and passive use of solar energy for space heating and hot water, other regions, not rarely with more advantageous climatic conditions seem not to utilize them to a similar extent. As space heating might be affected by both natural gas supply availability and gas price fluctuations more efforts should be done to encourage deployment of solar power. Photovoltaics might be instrumental in energy supply of remote areas and they are expected to become more and more economically viable, but R&D and introduction to broader markets needs further assistance from the Communities. Those renewable sources that are even more subject to local conditions, like geothermal energy and small scale hydropower need at least as favourable treatment and subsidies as other renewables, but they should be utilised with proper precautions with regard to their environmental effects and influence on natural habitats.

There are various projections on installed nuclear capacities. While nuclear energy is a mature technology on the market, research on safety standards and procedures as well as on long term application of nuclear fusion helps to maintain public trust for existing plants and to secure Europe’s vital role in finding safe alternatives of energy.

Some of the summer electricity supply problems in certain regions of Europe and industrial countries of the word attributed to the combined effect of the climate change, grid status and new demand due to air conditioner use raised the possibility to install new coal based units. While under current CO2 trading and regulation schemes and emission criteria it is not expected to see a significant increase of the share of coal products, by co-firing of agricultural biomass or gasification of coal there are a range of options to secure the position of coal in meeting energy demand of tomorrow’s Europe.

András Gyürk
Member of the European Parliament
EPP-ED Hungarian Delegation
Committee on Industry, Research and Energ