Renewable energy sources started to be developed when the oil crises
of the 1970s made us aware of the fact that fossil resources would run
out one day - but since there is some uncertainty about when that will
actually happen the efforts made in this area remained rather tentative.
Since that time the question of energy has assumed ever-increasing importance.
It has become quite obvious that using coal and oil does not fit in
with the trend towards "sustainable" development. Their adverse
effects, and in particular their detrimental impact on air quality and,
consequently, public health, have been more clearly identified. And
last but not least, the need for new solutions has become even more
apparent with the discovery of the fact that excessive consumption of
fossil fuels - mainly by the richer countries - is causing global warming.
This threat gave rise to the Kyoto agreements (1998). In them Europe
undertook to reduce its emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) by
8% compared with 1990 levels by 2008-2012.
Following the radically new post-Kyoto energy deal the stakes are now
high where sustainable and non-polluting energy sources are concerned.
Europe's avowed energy strategy objective of doubling their share in
total energy consumption is more than a mere aspiration: it has become
energy technologies - as varied as the energy sources for which they
have been developed - have evolved considerably and Europe is in the
forefront worldwide. This is the end-product of considerable research
carried out in conjunction with industry. Between 1990 and 1998 nearly
_ 800 million was spent from the Community budget to support transfrontier
technology cooperation projects involving renewable energy sources.
The progress achieved concerns the efficiency of the production and
utilisation equipment in terms of installed power, cost of a kilowatt-hour
supplied, applications for specific uses, storage solutions, etc. Going
beyond technical innovations, European support was earmarked for carrying
out demonstration projects, which are of particular importance to the
development of this sector. In order to penetrate a market which has
for a long time preferred to ignore them, renewable energy sources have
to be "proven" in pilot plants in order to convince potential
users. That is where their feasibility and economic merit can be verified
in clearly targeted applications.
The Energy-Environment-Economy Model for Europe (E3ME) developed through
European research is a powerful model for forecasting complex interactions
beteween these three "Es" and the regional and
sectoral impact of sustainable energy policies.
There is no point comparing the cost of
a kWh produced by a renewable source with that produced by an oil-fired
power station unless the "external" costs, e.g. the costs
of atmospheric pollution, are included. The Externe E project coordinated
from Madrid and carried out in 15 European countries has made it possible
to develop a very sophisticated standardised methodology for taking
all these factors into account. It now serves as a reference for many
The importance of demonstration
Developed in Italy, in association with several municipalities, the
Autosole project demonstrated the feasibility of a covered car park
with roof-mounted photovoltaic cells to recharge a fleet of electric
The Toledo power station in Spain, built in cooperation with German
partners, was Europe's first one megawatt solar power plant. Connected
up to the grid, Toledo is linked to a hydroelectric power station and
produces most of its power during the summer when water reserves are
at their lowest level.
Rear view of the nacelle of the giant wind generator at Tjaereborg
(Denmark) and its transformer. The end-product of a European project,
it was one of the first high-power installations built on the continent.