EREC - The European Renewable Energy Council

by Kristina Vilimaite

A second leg

EREC's policy development expertise will provide the REEEP with another limb, helping renewables to compete more successfully.

Politicians are an unpredictable breed.  When UK prime minister and 2005 G8 leader Tony Blair declared this month that his government was going to have to make "difficult and controversial" decisions about climate change, everyone knew that the continuation of nuclear power was on the table. Earlier, he had raised doubts about the value of targets. Renewable energy supporters were left feeling a bit vulnerable and deflated. 

{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}
Any industry, but particularly a young industry like clean, renewable energy, has to keep on running in the face of both political and economic hurdles. This vision of greater strength and mobility has underpinned the inclusion of EREC, the European Renewable Energy Council, on the REEEP program board.

EREC, created five years ago, is the only trade association which brings together the European renewable energy industries including wind, biomass, marine, and solar energy.  "We fight for renewable energy because renewable energy still has a small market share," says Olivier Schaefer, EREC policy advisor. "From time to time, we also have to fight against other industries."

Five years ago, only Germany, Denmark, and one or two other European countries had really kick-started their renewables industries.  In the intervening period, the accession of 10 new countries into the European Union and the 2001 Renewables Directive triggered the development of the industry across the continent, to various degrees.

Different renewable industries have found homes in different countries to a varying extent since then, depending on the local natural resources and policies. Solar predominates in Germany and hydro in Spain.  "The different industries have some different interests but also many common points such as a need for a common policy framework.  Bringing them together under one umbrella was important for the industry's development in Europe," says Schaefer.

He argues that EREC has been a key player influencing the establishment and direction of that sector within Europe within the five-year period, particularly regarding the policy framework for renewable electricity: "It's always difficult to say what campaigns do or specifically how a certain campaign leads to a certain outcome," he explains. However, he asserts that the industry's lobbying activities with both the European Parliament and Commission "directly influenced the shape of the policy."

More recently, the organization campaigned for a policy framework for renewable heating and cooling at a 2004 Berlin conference.  Together with green organizations and chambers of conference, it launched a set of workshops, news briefings, brochures, and talks to spread the message about this subsector. 

As a result, a European Parliament rapporteur has been writing a report this year on renewable energy that is to be discussed by the parliament.  "If the outcome is supportive," says Schaefer, "we hope to come up with a concrete proposal on a Renewable Heat and Cooling Directive.  The Energy Commissioner Piebalgs has confirmed his interest. It is true that high oil and gas prices and some other issues have also influenced the situation, though."

Schaefer believes that both these experiences will be of immense value to the REEEP, whose strengths he sees in other areas, particularly the financial and commercial aspects of the industry.  By using these pincers of finance and policy development on an international scale, he hopes a strong team will develop, enabling the further growth or new creation of renewable companies all over the world.

"All over the globe, we see distorted energy markets due to the presence of the old heavily subsidized fossil fuel and nuclear plants, with which we are competing," he observes. "One of our key tasks is to develop a favorable policy and administrative framework under these conditions.  Without policy frameworks, it is difficult to get financing for new investments."

China is a good example of a country whose policy has recently changed through the introduction of its renewable energy law.  It will provide a long-term framework for the sector to operate in, and will encourage the development of international joint ventures. 

The period of time covered by the law is a critical factor.  "Energy always needs a long-term framework because energy is always a long-term investment." The way in which it is subsidized, be it through feed-in tariffs, renewables obligation certificates, or another mechanism, is less important than the long-term framework.

Through its combined actions via its member trade associations, the organization has helped cultivate a domestic European industry which now boasts 250,000 jobs and a turnover of $15 billion.  It now plans to take this further to other continents on the back of the REEEP's alliances and financial expertise. 

"A company cannot just enter a market unprepared, administrative barriers need to be removed. Few countries can or should act as a one-stop shop for new ventures, at which companies can stop and move on," he explains.

Instead, the local civil service in individual countries needs to become aware of renewables and the need to incorporate them.  Other types of doors also have to be opened. For example, patent rights may be gained through legal changes.  In some countries, the acquisition of patent rights has been a key factor affecting the development of the solar thermal industry. 

Other important factors include the national government's acceptance of the industry and a grassroots understanding of the industry at local level.  "If, as a local business executive, you want to build a company within the country but don't have enough knowledge of the industry, you will need help in the form of joint ventures in order to build both local and global markets."  Between them, explains Schaefer, the REEEP and EREC will develop a joint understanding and mutual partnership which can help to break down these barriers.

As far as international development goes, this could be a critical time for the European industry.  In one or two countries, the local market is now saturated. In Denmark, the development of wind has halted at 20% of total energy supply and has moved on to export within Europe and beyond its boundaries.  The solar sector in Germany is also beginning to beam itself across the globe.  Given this new opportunity for joint work between REEEP and EREC, there is every expectation that the international expansion of the industry will continue.

However, the threat that politicians will change track is always there.  This is why it is so important to give this important, clean, safe and secure technology a voice on the European and the global level. The message REEEP and EREC are sending to policy makers is easy and will hopefully be heard and understood by politicians: In the long term, renewables will dominate the world´s energy supply. The reason is at the same time very simple and imperative: there is no alternative. Mankind cannot indefinitely continue to base its activities on the consumption of finite energy resources.

The author, Kristina Vilimaite, manages the activities of the REEEP regional secretariat for central and eastern Europe and Turkey and contributes to the development of REEEP databases and knowledge management.