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ENVIRONMENT-EUROPE: The Light Could Go All Green by 2050

Julio Godoy

BERLIN, Jun 8 2009 (IPS) - The EU could meet all its electricity demands from renewable energy sources such as wind and the sun by 2050 if governments take the right decisions now, leading environment and energy experts say.

Governments must stop authorising the building of traditional generators such as coal-fired power plants, accelerate the phasing out of nuclear power, and instead support investment in efficient use of renewable sources, the experts say.

Olav Hohmeyer, professor of the economics of energy at the university of Flensburg, some 400 kilometres west of Berlin, and member of the German Advisory Council on the Environment (SRU, after its German name), told IPS that another fundamental requirement is modernisation of national grids. Modernisation of accumulators is also needed to compensate for the oscillations in the amount of electricity generated by unstable sources such as wind and the sun, Hohmeyer added.

Hohmeyer, co-author of a report presented to the German government in May on switching to full reliance on renewable energy by 2050, told IPS that with the increasing energy supply from renewable facilities, nuclear and coal- fired power plants are becoming superfluous.

According to the Institute for Wind Energy and Energy Systems Technology (IWES, after its German name), by the year 2020 German power stations would need to run only 1,200 hours a year, instead of the 8,000 hours (almost around the clock) today, to meet the base load demand.

The study, carried out on behalf of the German Green party says “replacement of large traditional power plants, or their extension is, given the large supply of renewable energy, technically not necessary and economically non- profitable.”

“What some European governments, for instance the German government are doing by authorising new coal-fuelled generators, is wrong because such plants stop the expansion and efficient use of renewable energy generating facilities,” Hohmeyer told IPS.

This is so because, in case of too much supply of base load electricity, wind turbines and photo-voltaic generators are easier to shut down, while traditional power plants must, for economic reasons, operate round the clock.

Ten new coal-fired power plants are under construction in Germany alone, and 15 projects are under consideration. In other countries such as France and Finland a handful of new nuclear power plants are under construction or in planning.

And, if the new government programme is an indicator, despite all scientific and empiric evidence and urgent environmental demands, coal-fired plants will continue to exist. German minister for the environment Sigmar Gabriel failed last week to convince his Social Democratic Party (SPD) to anchor stern environmental obligations in its manifesto for the general election next year.

The SRU says that in order to stop global warming, industrialised countries must reduce their greenhouse gases emissions by at least 80 percent by the year 2050. This reduction necessarily implies the phasing out of carbon- emitting power plants, such as coal-fired generators.

“In addition,” Hohmeyer told IPS, “given the long lifespan of power plants, the energy policy decisions taken today will determine the energy landscape in 40 years time. Long-term investments in new power plants should not contradict the first aim, of reducing emissions.”

That means that construction of new coal-fired power plants can only be justified if effective schemes of carbon capture and storage are launched.

The SRU report says that supply of all electricity needed by 2050 from renewable sources is technically feasible. It says that to that end, decisions to adapt the national and European grid to renewable sources must be taken now.

The German experience supports such arguments. The government declared late 2005 that by 2010, 12.5 percent of electricity should be generated by renewable resources. Germany has exceeded that objective already – the present renewable supply in the country is 15.1 percent.

Experts and officials from the environment ministry forecast that by 2020 Germany could generate up to 30 percent of electricity from renewable sources.

The SRU paper says that construction of coal-fired plants or an extension of nuclear power plants would be a barrier to the expansion of renewable generators.

A study by the German Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research, based in Karlsruhe, some 500 kilometres south of Berlin close to the French-Swiss border, says that development of renewable energy generation in Europe could create up to 1.4 million new jobs.

The study presented Jun. 1 by the EU says that if the share of renewable energy sources in Europe grows to 20 percent of the total by 2020, the number of jobs in the sector would double from 1.4 million today to 2.8 million in 11 years.

But this growth would need additional investment of some 210 billion euros (300 billion dollars). The study forecasts that such investment would result in economic growth of more than 1 percent.

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