Rhein on Energy and Climate

The EU wind power potential is sufficient to cover future European electricity demand at competitive costs.

This is the encouraging conclusion of a technical report published by the European Environmental Agency in early June.

Currently, the capacity of wind turbines installed in the EU amounts to 10 GW, which generate 4 percent of EU power demand. The European Wind Power Association expects the installed capacity to rise eightfold to 80 GW until 2020, most of which off-shore. That might raise the share of wind power in Europe’s electricity to more than /20/ percent.

Three major obstacles hinder the expansion of wind power:

· The lack of grid capacity.

Europe needs to extend and upgrade its grid (“smart grid”) so as to be able to permanently balance varying supply and demand for electricity. This is costly and time-consuming considering the need to install a network of under-water cables across the North Sea and stretches of the Atlantic.

Wind energy is plenty and regular only in the North and the West. Transmitting electricity to southern and eastern Europe will require substantial investments in high-voltage direct current transmission lines over long distances. This meets with increasing popular resistance.

· The lack of storage capacity.

Because of its variability wind power is not well-suited for base load power supply. Though more wind farms spread across the North Sea, the Baltic and the Iberian coast will even the supply, this may not suffice to guarantee a secure power supply every hour throughout the year. The power industry will therefore have to provide for emergency storage, which will add to the generation and transmission costs.

· The opposition from vested interests.

Energy companies with coal-fired power, especially in Germany and Poland, will want to keep these running as long as possible and switch

to renewable sources only when forced to by EU emission caps or rising coal prices.

The same goes for France and Belgium, which cover more than two thirds of their electricity demand from carbon-free nuclear power plants. Wind energy is less constant and more costly than electricity from reactors built 20 years ago. Switching to wind therefore does not make much sense.

To overcome these obstacles the EU needs a coherent long-term strategy for the deployment of wind energy in the North Sea, the Baltic and the Atlantic Ocean and its cost-effective transmission to the urban centres in Central and Southern Europe. To that end, the Commission should consult with the major energy companies on their investment plans and induce them to create a European grid company.

By large-scale harnessing and inter-connecting Europe`s wind potential, power companies should be able to make it more stable and reliable and progressively turn it into the most important source of power generation, ahead of nuclear, hydro and solar thermal power.

There is therefore no longer any need for building new coal-or gas fired power plants. Once installed, they will operate for 40 years and risk blocking the development of wind and solar power. EU governments should stop commissioning new fossil-fired power plants. The time has come to focus on Europe’s vast potential of wind energy.

In combination with solar thermal power imported from North Africa wind electricity will be more than sufficient to cover Europe’s needs. It is time to realise that a rapid development of wind energy will be the safest way towards EU energy security.

Brussels 27. 06.09 Eberhard Rhein

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