For most of the 30 years I have spent working in the energy industry, renewables have been viewed as an interesting yet impracticable source of electricity except in a few unique circumstances. Utilities loved to do demonstration projects but never actually considered replacing fossil- or nuclear-fueled power plants with wind or solar. In the last few years, however, such thinking has begun to shift, and a few leading European countries, U.S. states, and possibly now China are leading the change in thinking.
The U.S. EIA rather conservatively estimates that non-hydro renewables will increase from 4% of our generation in 2010 to 9% in 2035. But can we look elsewhere for a suggestion that growth rates might be more dramatic?
In 2001, the European Union (EU) adopted the Renewable Energy Directive that set a target of 21% of electricity from renewable sources by 2010 . This directive was replaced in 2009 by another directive that set a target for renewables to make up 20% of all energy (not just electricity) consumed in the EU by 2020 . Since it is currently easier to utilize renewable sources in electricity production than in other energy uses such as transport, this suggests an even higher percentage of renewable electricity.
According to the European Wind Association (EWEA):
- Europe slightly exceeded the 21% renewable electricity target in 2010  (after subtracting out about 13% of hydro generation this is equivalent to a non-hydro percentage of 8% compared to 4% in the U.S.)
- More than one-third of Europe’s power could come from renewables by 2020 with as much as 50% by 2030
We will find out soon if such growth rates will become actual European Union policy as the European Commission is expected to present a post-2020 renewable policy this May as part of its development of the 2050 energy roadmap. If you are getting the idea that Europe plans its energy policy on a much longer timeframe than we seem able to do in the U.S., you are right!
For additional information on this topic including which renewable resources are predicted to contribute to most of the growth in Europe, read the full-length version of this article in our Q1 2012 Energy Insider here: https://marketing.enerdynamics.com/Energy-Insider/2012/Q1Renewables.htm
by Bob Shively, Enerdynamics President and Lead Instructor