Renewable Energy in Europe – The Past, and The Future

in Peak Oil by

Abstract for
Uppsala, Sweden, May 23-25, 2002
Organized by Uppsala University and ASPO, the Association for the Study of Peak Oil

Renewable Energy in Europe – The Past, and The Future
By Werner Zittel
L-B-Systemtechnik GmbH, Ottobrunn, Germany

The oil price shocks in the 70ties triggered a wave of research of renewable energy technologies. It founded the fundamentals for the important start-up phase to make these technologies mature for the market. The climate change debate strongly starting in the late 80ties and early 90ties pushed that research to the level of market introduction using many political support programs and technological progress. The early years of this century presumably will bring a new oil shock when passing the maximum of world oil production. It could help to broaden the market introduction and to boost it into a market penetration phase if continuation of the political support is assured for the few years to come until even pure market economics changes from damping to driving the use of renewable energy.

The 26th February 2002 was a historical date in the German state Schleswig-Holstein, when 100 percent of its electricity demand were supplied by domestic wind energy sources for several hours, still leaving a part for export. For the whole month, wind energy could supply half of its electricity demand.

We are now entering a new phase of energy supply. The first decade of this century will bring wind energy and other renewables in Europe to a level where it can start its market penetration, from already accounting for about one percent of the European Communities electricity supply in 2001. Simple trend extrapolation would rise its share far above ten percent by the end of this decade. Adding other renewable sources, it seems feasible that the European Community could provide most of its electricity from renewable energy by the year 2020. If such a development will take place, will depend on political support, which might be driven by resource constraints as well as by climate change fears, and maybe also by lobbying groups of the fast-rising employment sector renewables.

From an analysis of the development of renewable energy supply for the last ten years, the conclusion might be drawn, that the most severe deficit might arise in the non-electric power supply, which today is dominated by oil and gas at roughly equal shares. Only the transport sector is even today nearly ultimately deepened on oil.

As fast is realized the mobile sector might become the bottleneck of any shrink in oil supply, influencing industry and private life. It is by no means obvious that a deficit can be compensated without major disruptions in time by the combination of two supplemental measures more efficient use of energy in vehicles and switch to new fuels such as hydrogen generated from renewable energy.

This contribution gives a short overview of the past decade of renewables introduction within the European Community countries and tries to develop a feeling about future growth rates by extrapolating trends and discussing some measures and boundary conditions influencing these trends.

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