“Boost energy independence with higher renewables targets”, associations tell Barroso

» By | Published 16 May 2014 |

Increasing renewable energy can relieve Europe’s reliance on fossil fuel imports at volatile prices and protect it from geo-political instability like the ongoing Ukraine crisis. That is according to open letters sent to European Commission President Barroso and European Council President Van Rompuy from ten renewable energy associations including EWEA this week.

The associations point out that the EU’s dependence on energy imports cost €545 billion in 2012. Wind energy avoided €9.6 billion in fuel import costs in the same year, with all renewable energy avoiding fuel import costs of €30 billion in the EU in 2010.

The European Commission’s own figures show the impact of a more ambitious renewables target in 2030: a 30% target would avoid €260 billion more in fuel import costs and reduce gas imports three times further than the Commission’s proposed 27% target.

The ten associations call on Barroso and Van Rompuy to “remove the remaining barriers in Europe’s energy system” to fully exploit the potential of renewables and to “push more ambitious political objectives on renewable energy, so as to put Europe on track to reach a sustainable and affordable energy supply.”

The European Commission is currently working on an energy independence strategy, with the first output expected in June. As part of that work, it is organising a conference on energy security on 21 May in Brussels.

Europe’s imports 54% of its energy and each European spends over €2 per day on fossil fuel imports. That is why this year’s Global Wind Day on 15 June will also focus on energy independence – mid-June represents the moment in the year when Europe has used up its own energy and must switch to energy imports. Find out more




Price of cutting power sector emissions hits $44 trillion

» By | Published 13 May 2014 |

By Sarah Azau

Coal-fired-plantThose in favour of less fossil fuels and more renewable energy have long pointed out that delaying the shift to green power is pushing the price tag up. But the latest research from the International Energy Agency (IEA) shows this is already happening and dramatically so: the cost of decarbonising the power sector has shot up 22% – to a massive $44 trillion – in the past two years, it says.

The higher price tag is due to coal use rising faster than renewable energy use, according to the IEA.

“A radical change of course at the global level is long overdue,” IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven was quoted as saying. “Growing use of coal globally is overshadowing progress in renewable energy deployment, and the emissions intensity of the electricity system has not changed in 20 years despite some progress in some regions.”

A recent report from the UN’s international panel on climate change (IPCC) said switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy and energy efficiency measures is “affordable”: it would knock only 0.06% off expected annual economic growth rates of 1.3%-3%, without quantifying the enormous health benefits of the lower CO2 and pollution levels.

The costs given by the IEA represent what needs to be done to ensure the average temperature rise since the industrial revolution is limited to a 2 degrees Celsius rise – the recommended maximum to avoid devastating climate change impacts.

The next UN negotiations on a climate change agreement will take place in Bonn from 4-15 June. An EWEA specialist will attend to represent EWEA’s position in favour of a strong global deal working towards the replacement of fossil fuels by zero-emissions wind energy and other renewables worldwide.


80% of Brits support renewable energy

» By | Published 12 May 2014 |

By Zoë Casey

If you are a follower of the press and politics in the UK you might be forgiven for thinking that the country is against wind energy – but a new survey proves exactly the opposite. The survey – carried out by the UK government’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) in March 2014 – showed that 70% of respondents supported onshore wind energy, with 12% against it. Offshore wind energy received even greater levels of support – with 77% in favour and just 7% against.

For renewable energy sources in general, 80% of the public said they support the use of renewable energy to provide the UK’s electricity, fuel and heat. Moreover, six in ten people said they would be happy to have a large scale renewable energy development in their area. To compare, 29% of the public support the extraction of shale gas.

Meanwhile, the British are becoming more and more aware of the energy security and climate change risk facing the country. According to the DECC survey, “energy security and climate change are now ranked joint fourth in a list of the biggest challenges facing the UK today, up from eighth and ninth places respectively in March 2012.

Some elements of the UK’s political spectrum appear not to be aware of the high level of public support – many Conservatives have hinted that they will introduce a cap on the number of new wind farms if they are elected in the general election next year, despite onshore being the most affordable renewable energy technology.

“The debate in the UK has become overly negative,” said Thomas Becker, CEO of EWEA, in an interview with the BBC. “You could be having British wind turbines providing electricity for Britain and other parts of the EU. And you wouldn’t be so dependent on Mr Putin and the Middle East,” he was quoted as saying.

EWEA supports an EU-wide target of 30% renewable energy in the overall energy supply by 2030 as a strong means to increase energy security in Europe. The 30% target would build on the current legally-binding target of 20% renewable energy by 2020. EWEA statistics show that an ambitious 30% target would mean more green growth and jobs (investments of €25.3 billion and 795,000 jobs by 2030 in the wind sector), and lower dependency on fossil fuel imports and better energy security (€51 billion of avoided fuel costs in 2030).


Europe can be role model for renewable energy at United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris 2015

» By | Published 06 May 2014 |


By Thomas Becker

The economic and political winds of change for Europe’s energy security are in full flow.

With Ukraine on the brink of civil war and an IPCC report calling on the world’s governments to invest in renewables immediately, Europe’s policymakers face a dilemma that cannot be solved with words alone.

Add to that a Heads of State summit in March that failed to deliver a complete verdict on 2030 climate and energy targets and this paints a picture of uncertainty in Europe, particularly in the short term.

One thing is clear however: investment in renewables is essential and ultimately inevitable.

Part of the answer to Europe’s energy independence, of how to spur economic growth, create jobs and protect the climate lies in the wind industry; But to achieve this, policymakers must set aside differences in favor of the common good for the region.

Investments in wind and other renewables will not wait and as the IPCC clearly laid out in its climate change mitigation report earlier this month; the longer we delay, the higher the financial and social cost to the taxpayer.

The wind industry, particularly onshore, offers proven and affordable technology to power business and consumers with renewable energy.

While the cheapest and least precarious route to dealing with global warming is to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, starting immediately with cuts to their subsidies over the coming decades.

The IPCC report stresses that removing the subsidy safety net for high polluting energies such as oil and coal could result in a 13% decline in global emissions by mid-century.

Subsidies for fossil fuels amount to $1.9 trillion a year, according to the International Monetary Fund; surely this is money that could be used to develop and support growing technologies with massive potential like offshore wind.

Now, Europe has an opportunity to take the lead and can be a global role model for renewable energy at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris next year.

But first the European Commission must lay the groundwork for a transition away from fossil fuels by setting a nationally binding renewables target of at least 30% by 2030.

Such a target would create 570,000 more jobs at a time when many Europeans are out of work; it would slash gas imports by 26%, and avoid €260bn in fuel costs

And then there is the question of security; a vital one in the current political climate.

Critics love to paint wind energy as an expensive and unreliable technology but the real price comes from relying on Russian oligarchs and Arab sheikhs to keep our lights on at night.

Already, each European sends €2 a day to tycoons in Russia and the Middle East. Instead, why not let us invest in wind and other renewables – European energy sources which do not have to be imported, which will not run out, and in industries where Europe is a leading player.

The wind is not subject to Mr. Putin’s mood swings or instability in some of the world’s most volatile regions.

Today, renewables make up over 20% of EU electricity generation and can do far more. continue reading »


“Subsidies to renewables are the most transparent and visible”

» By | Published 02 May 2014 |

By Zoë Casey

From direct government support to tax breaks and the cost of negative externalities like pollution, subsidies to the power sector take many different – and often hidden – forms. In fact, the exact definition of a subsidy was the crux of an at times heated debate “subsidies to the power sector: Europe’s best kept secret?” hosted by the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) in Brussels, with over 100 attendees.

Subsidies to renewable energy are the most transparent and visible in the energy sector, they are directly in an EU Member State’s budget, explained Tom Howes, from the European Commission’s DG for Energy. “Being so transparent they are the first to attract the eye so there is an unfair treatment in their visibility,” Howes told the audience on 29 April.

Ronald Steenblik from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said that subsidies are extremely difficult to measure. “Is government inaction a subsidy?” he questioned, adding that the OECD does not include inaction such as the failure to tax externalities like pollution in its definition.

For Thomas Becker, CEO of EWEA, “a subsidy is always an act of political will. There’s nothing wrong with them, but transparency is key,” he said. Meanwhile, Brian Ricketts, Secretary General of EURACOAL said “obligations on consumers to purchase an amount of green energy sound like a subsidy to me.”

Howes said that the European Commission has just launched a study which will investigate direct and indirect subsidies and the cost of externalities in the power sector – which should be finished in six months. “It’s a pretty good secret what subsidies are,” he said, adding that the Commission has encountered difficulties in obtaining figures. “There are many different reasons why different groups are unwilling to reveal costs and subsidies. We couldn’t get some fuel price data on imports, it’s labelled as confidential,” he said adding that data on exemptions is also patchy.

Meanwhile, “nobody could find anything on nuclear,” Howes said. “Many people do not have an interest in exposing figures,” Becker added. “There’s a whole lot of other market failures to bring to the table. It’s very messy. We need data and to explain the relationships,” Howes said.

For Beate Raabe, Secretary General of Eurogas, there aren’t any direct subsidies to the gas sector in Europe and one of the solutions to the problem of including pollution externalities in the power market lies in the Emissions Trading System (ETS) – the EU mechanism for putting a price on carbon emissions. However, “the ETS is not working very well at the moment, we need to make that work. We need to define these externalities and be very transparent about it,” Raabe said.

Ricketts called for market-based solutions. “Renewables have disrupted the market – a consequence of having subsidies – we need a level playing field,” he said. Becker countered with: “it’s a question of pricing our behaviour. Do you think coal should pick up the bill for the health and pollution costs of its production?”

“Coal should not have to pick up the pollution bill because the sector we depend on will crumble,” Ricketts said citing consumer’s willingness to buy cheap goods from China, a coal-based economy.

The well-attended debate threw up many pertinent questions – what exactly is a subsidy? How do we count the cost of indirect subsidies like pollution costs? Do subsidies distort the market and can we fix everything with the Emissions Trading System? And, for wind power, when can it stand on its own two feet without subsidies?

“The fossil fuel industry is trying to frame renewables as an industry that can only survive with subsidies. Yet fossil fuels historically and currently have many more subsidies. Wind can be without subsidies when all other industries do not get subsidies,” Becker said.

Speakers agreed that the Commission’s forthcoming study should shed more light onto the subsidy debate. “Hopefully this time we will have a better set of data and a better story to tell,” said Howes.

The debate “subsidies to the power sector: Europe’s best kept secret?” took place at the EWEA’s office in Brussels on 29 April. See the debate in full.