renewable energy sources are to win the day it will be necessary to
bring about a radical change of approach in our centralised energy-intensive
societies that are so dependent on oil or nuclear power. Sustainable
resources, on the other hand, are only available on a local scale and,
because of their fluctuating nature, they need to be combined with other
The facts that most of these resources are free of charge and that their
use is decentralised provide a guarantee of energy autonomy both for
the local communities that they supply and for Europe as a whole. However,
because these energy sources offer a limited output, the initial capital
expenditure to exploit them entails long pay-back periods and the maintenance
costs are high. They can therefore only make inroads if they are incorporated
into the vast interconnected conventional electricity distribution network,
making it possible to absorb the surplus production of autonomous units
and offset falls in production resulting from fluctuations in the natural
These energy sources are intrinsically clean, but they can still cause
a degree of nuisance, e.g. noise in the case of wind generators or disruption
of land and ecosystems in the case of hydroelectric dams.
projects carried out under the European programmes are intended to remove
The equipment is becoming increasingly sophisticated and the technologies
are steadily improving. Increasing the efficiency of the facilities
for exploiting the various renewable resources - turbines, collectors,
self-regulation systems, storage facilities, nuisance control - is one
of the challenges facing the researchers.
Integrating renewable energy at every possible level of consumption
in Europe, i.e. in urban areas and outlying regions, in housing, industry
and services, is now emerging as an important priority for the European
programmes. The economic aspect of the research work - and of the accompanying
demonstration work - is at the heart of Europe's approach. This is a
decisive factor if we are to open up and make the most of this market
which has already attracted a large number of SMEs and has a high potential
for job creation.
What it takes to succeed
The liberalisation of the electricity sector in Europe offers an opportunity
for encouraging renewable energy. On the basis of a cost-benefit analysis
of integrating renewable energy into production and distribution systems
- in technical-economic, environmental, social and financial terms
- the REALM project produced a series of strategic recommendations
for electricity operators and
Advances in photovoltaics
Materials, photovoltaics and optoelectronics
specialists got together in the Hercules project to demonstrate the
feasibility of a new type of device designed to align the cost of solar
energy with that of conventional energy. An innovative solar radiation
concentrator makes it possible to increase power production in tiny
cells (1 mm2) and hence reduce the surface area of photovoltaic panels.
Energy in synergy
How can the management of the electricity distribution networks be rejigged
in order to incorporate the various sources of energy? The researchers
working on the Care project have developed a module-based system which
takes into account load forecasting, dynamic security assessment and
real-time optimisation of the use of conventional and renewable resources.
The first prototype, built on Crete, made it possible to reduce oil
consumption in power stations by 3%.
In Doordrecht (the Netherlands) solar collectors are mounted on
the roofs of a housing estate. This architectural demonstration project
provides protection against the Sun's rays in the summer and supplies
35% of the electricity consumed.
Employment up, noise down
Research carried out by Enercon on reducing the noise produced by
giant wind energy turbines has made it possible to develop equipment
capable of operating at night with far less noise. The advanced technologies
in which this small German company, which is now number two in the world
in its field, has specialised, were developed to some extent thanks
to its participation in eight European projects. Its rapid growth has
resulted in spectacular job creation: when set up in 1987 it employed
only 20 or so people but nearly 900 ten years later.