This page describes some of the policies being put in place in the EU (European Community) to promote a shift to renewable energy. Some examples are given of the technologies being backed by these measures. [Cambia a la versión en ESPANOL]
The EU has imposed a legal requirement to produce a total of 20 per cent of its total demand for energy (all energy, not just electricity) from renewables (wind, solar, waves, tide, hydroelectric, biomass) by 2020. Some countries within the EU are showing much more commitment to do this than others. There is also a bitter debate about the use of nuclear power - this however is largely irrelevant to Nicaragua. The targets for renewables differ for each country: Sweden, which already generates half of its electricity from hydro and half from nuclear power, has the highest target at 49 per cent. Malta, with 10 per cent, has the lowest.
Countries are promoting conservation and renewables by a mixture of legal and financial measures. Building regulations can require new houses to meet better standards of insulation and fit renewable energy systems. Grants are offered to householders and schools who insulate their homes or fit renewables. Laws oblige electricity companies to pay more for renewable electricity. ROCs and carbon trading.
Spain requires the installation of photovoltaic electricity generation and solar hot water systems in new buildings.
The UK is exempting 'zero-carbon' houses from a sales tax. The house must make no overall contribution to global warming over the course of a year. This could involve: mini-wind turbines and solar panels for electricity; a geothermal heating system extracting heat from the ground or a wood burning boiler; super-insulated walls and triple-glazed windows; a rain water collecting tank to supply the washing machine and lavatories.
The UK offers 50% grants to schools that install solar PV panels and smaller grants to householders. The funds have been too small to have much of an impact.
Germany has a special 'feed in tariff' for solar - they buy solar generated electricity at a higher price. As a result, solar in Germany is growing at an astonishing rate of 20 to 25% a year. Good feed in tariffs are seen as one of the best ways to promote renewables and other countries have adopted this scheme.
The UK has a 'Renewables Obligation' that requires electricity suppliers to source a specific and annually increasing percentage of the electricity they supply from renewable sources. The current level is 9.1% for 2008/09 rising to 15.4% by 2015/16. Eligible renewable generators receive Renewables Obligation Certificates (ROCs) for each MWh of electricity generated. These certificates can then be sold to suppliers, in order to fulfil their obligation.
The EU has adopted an Emissions Trading System to try to reduce CO2 emissions by making polluters pay for permits to emit CO2 over a certain level. The ETS currently covers more than 10,000 installations in the energy and industrial sectors which are collectively responsible for close to half of the EU's emissions of CO2 and 40% of its total greenhouse gas emissions. The idea is that EU governments give the installations that emit CO2 slightly fewer permits than they require for their current levels of emissions. Thus these installations must either reduce their own emissions of buy permits from another installation that reduced its emissions sufficiently to have permits to spare. Unfortunately the initial allocation of permits was too generous so it is not clear how successful the scheme will be. [Wikipedia on Emission Trading].
A 'carbon offset' represents a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of one metric ton of carbon dioxide-equivalent (CO2e). Under the The United Nations Kyoto treaty on Climate Change, most industrialized nations agreed to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions of an average of 6 to 8% below 1990 levels between the years 2008-2012. Companies and governments buy carbon offsets in order to comply with caps on the total amount of carbon dioxide they are allowed to emit. There is also a smaller voluntary market: individuals, companies, or governments purchase carbon offsets to mitigate their own greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, electricity use, etc. For example, if you fly on the airline EasyJet you are invited to pay a small amount extra which they use to fund a hydroelectric project in Ecuador. [EasyJet Offsets][Wikipedia on Carbon Offsets].
The UK has adopted a 'Climate Change Law' that commits the Government to 80 per cent cuts in the UK's emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050, including emissions from aviation and shipping, and with annual targets along the way. [UK government information about this law].
(1) Solar hot water must be fitted to new houses in Spain. (2) Zero Carbon House, UK - exempt from sales tax. (3) Solar roofs, Freilburg, Germany - benefit from a 'feed in tariff'. (4) Carbon Offsets pay for hydroelectricity in Ecuador.
Some of the real changes and technological developments being promoted are:
Wind - The Danish company Vestas is the worlds number one wind turbine manufacturer. Denmark generates almost 25% of its electricity from wind and aims to reach 50% by 2025.
Solar PV - Germany is a world leader in the quantity of solar photovoltaic (PV) it has installed, despite not being very sunny. Germany has a special 'feed in tariff' - they buy the solar generated electricity at a higher price. As a result, solar in Germany is growing at an astonishing rate of 20 to 25% a year.
Solar CSP - Spain has built a power station that works by mirrors that concentrate the sun's heat to operate conventional steam turbines to drive generators. The USA is also building such plants. This technology has the potential to generate all the world's electricity.
Tide - The moon's pull causes the sea to rise and fall twice daily by several meters along Europe's Atlantic coast. France has the worlds only tidal power station - a dam across an estuary that contains water turbines. Britain has a prototype tidal mill - a sort of underwater windmill driven by the tidal currents.
Wave - Portugal is installing the world's first commercial wave power machines. They capture energy from waves in the sea and turn it into electricity. Portugal is also building wind farms and solar PV power stations.
Conservation - the UK government says that within ten years every new home built must be a 'zero-carbon home', i.e. it must make no overall contribution to global warming. Increased efficiency of electrical appliances, cars, homes, etc. is widely recognised as the quickest and cheapest way to reduce CO2 emissions. Instead of building megawatts of new renewable generating plant, we produce negawatts (negative megawatts!) by energy saving.
Transport - most countries are promoting walking, cycling, public transport, electric vehicles, etc. Measures include reduced taxes, rental bicycles, new cycle routes, publicity campaigns, improved public transport. Folding bikes and electric bikes becoming popular.
Biomass - waste from homes and agriculture is being digested to produce methane. Wood pellets, etc. Biofuels - the EU requires a proportion of diesel to come from vegetable oils (mixed with conventional fuel), but this is controversial as it implies cutting down tropical forests for plam oil plantations. In many areas, cooking oils are being recovered and converted to diesel.
Organic agriculture - uses far less energy in fertilisers and ploughing.
(1) Offshore Wind. (2) Rental bicycles in Barcelona. (3) Tidal Energy. (4) Organic Farm.