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Renewable energy

October 7, 2009

Investment in clean energy technology should be boosted by 50 billion euros through 2020 in order for Europe to meet its climate goals, according to a new report issued by the European Commission on Wednesday.

A solar power plant in Cottbus, Germany
Solar power would receive the most money under the EU planImage: AP

Currently, the European Union and its member states spend about three billion euros a year on various forms of alternative and renewable energy but this sum is not sufficient, the report said.

Annual spending should be raised to eight billion euros if Europe is to meet its goal of cutting carbon emissions 20 percent from 1990 levels by 2020.

"Today we have a unique opportunity to change an energy model based on polluting, scarce and risky fossil fuels, into a clean, sustainable and less dependent one," said Andris Piebalgs, the EU's energy commissioner, at a press conference in Brussels Wednesday.

A roadmap for future energy research spending

Dubbed the Strategic Energy Technology Plan (SET), the Commission's report emphasized that additional investment to promote technologies such as solar and wind power was urgently needed.

A wind power park in Germany
Wind power could produce 20 percent of Europe's electricity by 2020Image: picture-alliance/ ZB

"Locked-in investments, vested interests, as well as the high risks and need for significant investments in less profitable alternatives, mean that change will be slow without a major push," the study said.

The Commission report is a roadmap that will help set funding priorities within the European Commission, the EU's executive branch, and the member states.

Coordinating research and development among the EU's 27 member governments will be difficult, said energy economist Claudia Kemfert of Berlin's DIW research institute.

"Individual member countries have to decide how much they want to spend and what they spend it on," Kemfert told Deutsche Welle. "There will be pressure for them to spend the money in their own countries."

The bulk of the new funding would come from the private sector and member states. The EU's European Trading System for CO2 credits and the European Investment Bank will also provide some financing.

Solar and carbon capture the big winners

Solar power projects receive the most attention in the SET study, with 16 billion euros of funding proposed for the next decade with the goal of producing 15 percent of the EU's electricity from solar power by 2020.

Some of the solar research projects supported by the SET roadmap include new ways to build photovoltaic cells more cheaply and quickly than today and for further research in the field of concentrated solar power, which uses the sun's energy to create heat that powers turbines.

An experimental carbon storage power plant near Berlin, Germany
The report proposes 13 billion euros of funding for carbon storage technologyImage: AP

"Solar power has the greatest potential but also has the highest costs at the moment," said Kemfert. "Those costs will decline but it will take investment to do that."

A German consortium known as Desertec has proposed using concentrated solar power to build a network of power plants across the deserts of North Africa and the Middle East which would export much of their electricity to Europe at a cost of approximately 400 billion euros by 2050.

Carbon capture and storage technologies, which inject carbon dioxide emitted by coal power plants into the ground rather than releasing the emissions into the atmosphere, would receive 13 billion euros in funding according to the EU roadmap, the second-highest sum in the report.

Wind energy gets less

Additional research funds would also flow into research for biofuels, nuclear power, improving energy efficiency and building 'smart grid' technology which will create a unified European electricity grid that can accommodate renewable forms of energy.

Wind energy, which already provides a significant amount of electricity in Germany and Spain, would receive six billion euros of additional funding under the plan, which would enable wind power to supply 20 percent of the EU's electricity needs by 2020.

High voltage power lines
Developing 'smart grid' technology to ease power transmission is a key goalImage: CC-BY-SA-MdE

Calling the funding proposal "a step in the right direction," Hermann Albers, head of Germany's wind power federation was also critical of the Commissions funding suggestions, noting that wind power already produced seven percent of Germany's electricity.

"The foreseen investments in wind energy are clearly too small in comparison to CCS and nuclear technology," Albers told Deutsche Welle. "Some rethinking on the EU level is urgently needed."

New jobs and energy security

In addition to helping Europe meet its carbon reduction goals, the report emphasized that targeted investments in the renewable energy sector could stimulate the development of new industries and jobs and provide Europe with an economic advantage in the decades ahead.

The additional 50 billion euros worth of spending could create as many as 600,000 new jobs, with the European renewable energy sector employing as many as 2.8 million people by 2020, the study said.

Europe's energy security would also be improved by increasing the use of renewable fuels, the report said. Currently, 80 percent of European electricity production is derived from fossil fuels, much of which is imported from outside of the EU.

Author: Brett Neely (dpa/Reuters)

Editor: Sam Edmonds

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