16 March 2004 – After a listless performance over the past two decades, renewable energy is back in the limelight. The need to lessen dependence on fossil fuels, plummeting capital costs and the suitability of many renewable energy technologies to distributed generation is underlining their growing appeal.
As renewables attempt to break the traditional hegemony of fossil fuels, cost and energy efficiency loom as the two most critical challenges.
However, support from the public and private sectors is helping renewable energy sources steadily gain market share. With multinational oil companies seeking to diversify their energy base, renewable energy sources are being seen as a complement rather than a competitor to the traditional revenue generating bases in oil and gas.
For instance, companies such as BP and Royal Dutch/Shell are actively promoting solar, hydrogen and wind energy technologies.
Despite recent technological advances, many companies lack the experience to be cost competitive on a commercial basis. Therefore, even as market participants increasingly incorporate renewables in their energy base, government support is being seen as critical to sustaining growth momentum.
On their part, governments are offering various incentives to encourage a more prominent role for renewables in the energy sector. For instance, the Japanese Government has subsidised solar power. Enterprises harnessing wind energy in Northern Ireland, Germany and the United States have been the
beneficiaries of significant government support. Financial assistance has, moreover, caused the capital costs of many renewable energy technologies to fall dramatically – a trend forecast to continue.
Along with research subsidies and financial aid to consumers and programmes that have renewables as a critical component, government legislation has also been key to advancing renewable energy technology. Pro-renewables policy initiatives have attempted to reverse the traditional bias towards fossil fuel-based systems and ensure a more equitable competitive environment.
Europe is already the global leader in renewable energy. As part of the Kyoto Protocol efforts to curb carbon emissions, the European Commission has pledged to boost its use of renewable sources. From 14 per cent in 1997, renewables are expected to account for 22 per cent of Europe’s energy
supply by the end of this decade.
Nearly 15 per cent of Denmark’s electricity needs are met by its 2300 wind turbines. Germany is in the midst of installing over 140 000 solar-paneled rooftops by 2005. More than half of Scandinavia’s energy derives from hydropower.
Apart from Denmark, Germany, Finland, Iceland, Sweden and Norway, Austria, Portugal, Switzerland and Turkey are major users of renewables. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) report of 2002, the share of renewables over the 1990-2000 period has also grown tremendously in eastern Europe – 18 per cent in the Czech Republic, 10.3 per cent in Poland and 6.4 per cent in the Slovak Republic.
As most renewable energy technologies can be locally generated and used, they are extremely suitable for distributed generation. Renewable sources
are projected to occupy an increasingly important position as fuel cells using hydrogen or other fuels become more cost effective.
At present, progress is being made across a range of renewable technologies. Solar and wind energy technologies as well as geothermal and wave power technologies are making rapid strides.