For much of the world, Europe seems like the poster child for responsible renewable energy policies. Unlike the U.S., which is embracing shale oil and natural gas, Europe has made little progress in developing alternative fossil fuel supplies. Part of that is due to geography, but part of it is surely due to the high level of concern for the environment as well.
While China and India continue to suffer from substantial pollution issues, Europe is for the most part a green-continent and one that is constantly pushing the envelope with environmental policies like its emissions trading system. At least that is the perception.
The reality of the situation is more nuanced, and it reflects the difficulty that renewable energy will face in pushing out fossil fuels. The challenges faced by renewables even in environmentally-friendly Europe suggest it could take decades or perhaps even a century or more before renewables completely displace fossil fuels. The latest EU Tracking Roadmap, which details progress being made by European countries towards their modest renewable energy goals of 2020, illustrates this difficulty. Related: Senate Sidesteps Key Issues In Latest Energy Bill
Europe set a goal known as 20-20-20 in which it established three key objectives for member states by 2020: First, the EU would achieve a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels; Second, energy consumption by the EU would be composed of 20 percent renewable energy by 2020; And third, the EU would see a 20 percent improvement in overall energy efficiency by 2020.
At this point in 2015, only about half of the EU countries have clearly achieved their 2013 renewable energy generation targets. Among those member states who have not achieved their targets are Britain, France, and Spain. Further, most major European countries are not expected to achieve their 2020 goals on time. The list of countries expected to fail includes Germany, Britain, France, Spain, Belgium, and the Netherlands among others.
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There are a variety of reasons why EU member states are failing to meet their renewable energy commitments, from the high cost of renewables in some areas to significant red tape and regulation in others. But broadly speaking, there are also two factors that have significantly hampered clean energy goals; a lack of substantial penalties and the Euro Crisis.
When the EU set the goals for renewable energy, the organization failed to enact a meaningful set of penalties for countries that fail to make progress towards the renewable energy goals. As a result, a lot of countries started out with good intentions but failed to push through hard changes and spend money where needed to actually make significant progress on their national goals. Related: The Four Noble Truths Of Energy Investing
Now Europe is actually falling behind much of the rest of the world on renewable energy goals. In 2014, investment in renewables in India was up 14 percent, and investment levels were up 8 percent in the U.S. By contrast, investment in renewables in Europe rose just 1 percent. Europe is not filing clean energy patents at the same rate as the U.S., Japan, or China, and it’s not clear when the continent will start to get serious about investing in renewables again.
A major part of the reluctance here is certainly due to the Euro Crisis. As Greece struggles to avoid catastrophic economic melt-down and the rest of the continent wonders about fallout and contagion, it is easy to put off renewable energy investments and spend the money elsewhere.
Unfortunately, few economists are ready to declare the Euro Crisis over and as such renewable energy in Europe will likely continue to lag behind the Continent’s ambitious goals. Green energy proponents should see an important, if unfortunate, lesson here.
By Michael McDonald for Oilprice.com
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