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The obstacles in our way

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The obstacles in our wayIf 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 sources.
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 phenomena exploited.
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.

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The obstacles in our wayThe projects carried out under the European programmes are intended to remove these obstacles.
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%.

Solar housing
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.

The obstacles in our way

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.

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