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A New Energy Policy - The European Perspective

bridges vol. 9, April 2006 / OpEds & Commentaries
by Madeleine Petrovic

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The world is currently confronted with a serious energy supply crisis. Crude oil and natural gasoline are becoming ever more expensive and scarce.


At the same time, the world's demand for energy is steadily rising. Emerging economies such as China, India, and Brazil are speeding up this development. Continuing use of expensive fossil energy sources may lead to social problems and accelerate the incipient climate change. While supplies of coal are still plentiful, increased combustion of coal would accelerate the climate change. Any rise in the use of atomic energy would multiply the risks of accidents and circulation of weapons-grade nuclear material. The future lies in the development and use of renewable energy and the improvement of energy efficiency. This "Energy Revolution" is not only the way to go as far as environmental policy and climate policy are concerned, but creates new jobs and reduces the dependency of the worldwide energy supply on a few highly unstable geopolitical regions. Unlike crude oil and natural gasoline, renewable energy will not pose a reason to wage wars.

{access view=guest}Access to the full article is free, but requires you to register. Registration is simple and quick - all we need is your name and a valid e-mail address. We appreciate your interest in bridges.{/access} {access view=!guest}By 2050, a worldwide "fully solar" energy supply will be possible, and by 2100 there will hardly be any other alternative.

As the price of crude oil has tripled within the past two years, and the gasoline conflict between Russia and the Ukraine in January 2006 has made obvious Europe's extreme dependency on importing natural gasoline from Russia, the security of the gas supply and alternatives to conventional energy policy are of the highest priority in the political agenda of Europe. The European Commission is currently discussing a new energy policy.

Never again will crude oil be cheap, and in the years to come it will also become increasingly scarce. This is now the opinion held by well-renowned investment banks and experts working in this field. Due to the increase in the price of crude oil, the price of natural gasoline will also increase. This year, Central Europe has experienced one of the coldest and longest winters in years. Numerous families, especially those with low income, are suffering from the escalating heating costs. The European economy has also been adversely affected by the high price of importing crude oil and natural gasoline.

Estimates assume that, by 2030, approximately 94 percent of the crude oil required by the European Union will have to be imported, compared to the current figure of 70 percent. The reasons for this are the expected increase in energy consumption, along with decreasing production in Europe. The security of the crude oil supply is also at risk, since approximately 30 percent of the crude oil required worldwide can be provided by one region alone: the Near East. The political instability of many crude oil-producing countries, as well as rising demand in countries with emerging economies such as China, India, and Brazil, lead us to assume that resources will continue to run short and prices will increase even more rapidly.

Countries such as Austria, Germany, and Sweden demonstrate that a new energy policy is possible. For example, assisted by laws to that effect, the share of renewable energy in the electricity sector in Germany and Austria has risen considerably during the past two to three years. And recently, the government of Sweden set the goal of completely phasing out the use of crude oil for energy by 2020. However, there are powerful industries and lobbies in Europe which disapprove of this new energy policy. Considering the high increase in prices of crude oil and natural gasoline, there is no truth to the arguments of large scale industry that renewable energies will be too expensive and that they are not really being put to use in the European geographic area.

Atomic Energy is a Problem - Not a Solution
The use of atomic energy is not very widespread. Only 32 countries in the world use atomic energy, and it supplies only 6 percent of the economy's need for primary energy. To ensure the security of the energy supply and climate protection, the production of atomic energy would have to be massively extended; therefore, atomic energy is not a solution either for security issues or for climate protection. Moreover, increased use of atomic energy is not a real option, due to non-justifiable risks such as accidents, proliferation of nuclear arms, terrorism, waste, and environmental pollution.

The Challenge of Climate Change
In the spring of 2005, the EU Council of Ministers for the Environment corroborated their goal to limit the worldwide temperature increase to a maximum of 2 degrees Centigrade beyond the levels existing in the pre-industrialization period. Decision-making in energy policy must go beyond the effort to comply with commitments within the scope of the Kyoto Protocol, to enable the limit of 2 degrees Centigrade to be realistic assuming decreased CO2 emissions. In order to enable adherence to these temperature limits, the greenhouse gas emissions of the industrialized countries will have to be reduced by 30 percent by the year 2020, and as much as 80 percent by the year 2050.

Transportation Policy is Energy Policy
In 2005, transportation uses accounted for approximately 70 percent of the oil consumption of the European Union. Ninety-six percent of the European vehicles require crude oil, in contrast to the oil shocks of the '70s, when crude oil was primarily used to generate electricity and produce heat. Since traffic infrastructures cannot be adapted as quickly to other energy sources as electricity and heat production can, it is now more difficult to move away from using crude oil than it was 30 years ago. The improvement of efficiency standards for automobiles and trucks, the expansion of public transportation, and the internalization of external social and environment-related costs are among the most important measures in the field of transportation to enable fair competition between all types of traffic.

Sustained Solutions as a Priority
The future of energy policy must be geared towards granting priority to measures which increase the benefit to all without incurring additional risk. From the European perspective, the ranking of priorities for a new energy policy is as follows. The "best solutions," associated with low risks and high yield of numerous economic benefits, are: the avoidance of traffic and the expansion of public transportation, efficient use of energy by end consumers, development of renewable energies, and efficiency in energy production (combined heat and power generation).

The "second best solutions," natural gasoline and coal, entail some risks and defects. They are second-class solutions. As far as natural gasoline is concerned, Europe's high dependence on geopolitical regions in crisis poses a massive problem. As long as coal-fired power stations do not solve their CO2 problems, coal cannot be taken seriously as an alternative.

The World Needs a Revolution of Efficiency
Already, energy efficiency saves more energy than would be possible by changing the type of energy supply; however, much more could be achieved, particularly in the areas of traffic, electricity, and buildings. The electric power consumption in households could be decreased at least 20 percent for a lower economic cost than building new power plants in order to produce energy for this purpose. Renovation of existing buildings and the application of modern technology could dramatically reduce energy consumption for heating and cooling buildings.

The Century of Renewable Energies
During implementation, new technologies are expensive, but as soon as production is expanded, the costs drop at a steady rate. The rule of thumb for renewable energies (wind, biomass, solar energy, photo-voltaic power, geothermal systems, tidal energy, etc.) is that whenever the accumulated production is doubled, the costs per unit of energy diminish by about 20 percent. In Europe during the past 15 years, the cost of wind power has been cut in half. Renewable energies are finding increasing use in three fields:

  • Heating and cooling: by 2020, a share of 25 percent of renewable energies could be attained in the field of heating/cooling in Europe.
  • Electricity: the utilization of the great wind potential in offshore areas of the North Sea, of biomass, and in the field of solar thermal power plant technologies, makes further development possible. Further research is also required in the fields of waves, tides, and photo-voltaic power.
  • Fuel: bio-fuels do show potential; however, total energy and climate levels and their effects on sustainable methods in agriculture will have to be taken into account to a greater extent.

The World's Power Supply by 2100 - 100 Percent Use of Renewable Energies
In the meantime, numerous tests show that it will be technically feasible to produce the worldwide energy supply by means of 100 percent environmentally sound renewable energy sources by the end of this century. The share of renewable energy sources can be increased by 50 percent by the year 2050. Solar and wind power, in particular, can be quickly expanded in the decades to come - increasing by a factor of ten in each decade. Up to 40 percent of the fuel demand of the European Union could be satisfied by biomass as a fuel alternative. The European Union aims to double the use of renewable energies as a share of total energy consumption, from 6 percent (2000) to 12 percent in 2010. By 2020, this share could be increased to 25 percent if subsidized accordingly.

The switch to solar power will also serve as a motor for jobs and the economy. A study commissioned by the EU shows that doubling the share of renewable energy sources in the European Union will create approximately 900,000 new jobs. With careful management and the development of renewable energy sources, the current world crisis in energy supply may provide the necessary impetus toward achieving a long-lasting solution in energy supplies and policies.


Dr. Madeleine Petrovic is spokeswoman of the Green Party in the Lower Austrian Land Parliament and Deputy Federal Spokeswoman of the Austrian Green Party.



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