There will always be a little bit of the outrageous in renewable power. Yet, every day, in the realm of energy, what once seemed like the exclusive domain of fantasy becomes an accepted part of our lives. After all, not long ago, the thought of electric vehicles and solar-powered homes seemed little more than science fiction. Slowly, but surely, they are now becoming commonplace.
If futuristic thinking and undiminished optimism are the hallmarks of the industry, then the latest assertion from a European think tank devoted to green power and democracy should come as little to no surprise.
According to a report published by the German-based Heinrich-Boll Foundation, the European continent could be powered by 100 percent renewables by the middle of this century. The report, “A European Union for Renewable Energy—Policy Options for Better Grids and Support Schemes,” argues that with the right mix of policies and direction, the European Union can and should completely shed its dependence on fossil fuels by 2050.
While theoretically possible, the milestone of a 100 percent renewable-powered Europe is fraught with monumental challenges, both practical and political. For example, according to the report, nuclear power plays no part in the continent’s renewable future, a fact that will not be lost on member nations, such as France, where nuclear power is a huge slice of the power pie. The report also asserts that about two-thirds of the continent’s power plants will have to be replaced in the coming years. Last, the report recognizes that in their adoption of renewable power, European nations are anything but uniform, and leaders such as Germany will have to set the example for other nations.
The report breaks down the task into two distinct categories. The first set of policy imperatives concern the transition of the continent’s grid infrastructure. The second set of options concerns the development of support and remunerations schemes that will encourage this change.
The first set of imperatives includes such recommendations as binding targets of 45 percent renewable energy for the energy sector by 2030, redesigned markets to accommodate variable renewable energies, and a stable environment for investors. The second set of recommendations focuses on transparency and democracy to win public support. It includes such recommendations as demand management and decentralized power generation, the formation of stakeholder groups and public participation in the grid-planning process.