Brussels bureaucrats have issued a statement trumpeting the "fact" that renewable energy sources - particularly wind - accounted for the majority of new power station capacity installed in the EU during 2009. However, the truth is that European dependence on fossil gas worsened seriously last year.
Under the headline "Renewables account for 62% of the new electricity generation capacity installed in the EU in 2009", analysts at the European Commission Joint Research Centre published their annual "renewable energy snapshots" report yesterday.
The main problem with this is that generating capacity is a fairly meaningless number when applied to most forms of renewables. A wind or sun farm usually puts out well under 30 per cent of its rated maximum output over time, as opposed to "thermal" plant (mostly fossil and nuclear) which runs at load factors of 75 to 90+ per cent.
Thus it is the output of the plant over time which counts, far more than its rated maximum capacity. And when we look at the new powerplants installed last year in the EU this way, we see that in fact far more energy will be generated by new gas-fired equipment (28 Terawatt-hours each year) than by new wind (20 TWh/yr) or solar (5.6 TWh/yr).
A more truthful header for the EC bureaucrats' annual summary would have been "European dependence on gas worsens still further" despite the huge subsidies and incentives which have been poured into renewables. Gas power is not just a carbon emitter: it is also becoming more and more a security issue as North Sea fields play out and supplies have to be imported (across various gas-hungry nations) from Vladimir Putin's Russia.
The authors of the report (pdf) do seem aware at some level that all is not well, despite the desire for a positive header on the press release. On page 6 they suddenly crank up the font size and select red ink to bellow:
The renewable electricity sector will not come by itself. Without increased political support... these predictions will not come about. In addition, the different renewable energy sources will need for the next decade substantial public R&D support as well as accompanying measures to enlarge the respective markets, as cost reduction and accelerated implementation will depend on the production volume and not on time!
The renewable electricity sector already receives enormous levels of government support, however. In these straitened times it will do well just to keep what it has, let alone obtain even more.
So it would seem that in fact the renewable electricity sector will not come. ®