Europe ahead in the race to sustainable energy

Date: 6 June 2013

By Steve Hodgson, energy journalist, for Danfoss


At a time of almost unprecedented economic crisis across Europe, countries are also facing the need for radical changes to their energy systems and markets. While change will be difficult, Europe is in an excellent position to reap the long-term benefits of its pioneering approach to both renewables and energy efficiency.

The uncontrolled emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere through inefficient and wasteful burning of fossil fuels is a historical practice that has to come to an end. Reliance on fossil fuels will eventually be substituted by low or even zero-carbon energy systems.


Clearly, the transition to low-carbon energy will be lengthy, highly disruptive and expensive. But, given the finite nature of fossil fuels and their associated upward long-term price trends, the costs in economic and environmental terms of not transitioning would be even higher.


The EU and most European countries have already taken several steps along the path to a low-carbon energy economy based on renewables, possibly a new generation of nuclear power plants, and energy efficiency, both in generation and energy use.


Europe leads the world in the development of renewable energy technologies and deployment. Wind farms now supply very significant proportions of total electricity requirements in Denmark, Germany, Spain and the UK, with other countries catching up, while enormous progress is being made with both solar energy and biomass.


Both electricity and heat markets are being transformed, slowly and at a price, by renewables. For the former, large-scale wind and solar farms feed electricity into national electricity grids for onward transmission and distribution, while thermal energy from biomass and solar thermal and geothermal sources supplies local heating loads.


Emerging potential
In several countries, District Energy is the mainstream energy delivery system. Europe’s District Energy industry is already exporting its expertise around the world.


In China, for example, European District Energy and utility companies have started programmes to both refurbish and expand existing District Energy schemes. Now, the government of Hong Kong plans to install the territory’s first District Cooling system as part of the redevelopment of an old airport site. Also in Asia, South Korea plans to increase its district heating capacity by a third over the next few years.


In all cases, long-standing expertise from Europe should be involved.


The European experience proves that moving towards a sustainable energy future and a high standard of living are by no means incompatible. Combining these two requires highly intelligent energy policymaking that maximises not only the use of local energy resources but also the efficiency with which local and imported energy resources are used. Having taken a lead towards sustainable energy at home, European energy companies now have the opportunity to export their experience and know-how around the world.          


So, if Europe is to remain an economic power house in the long term, then better energy planning, reduced imports, better use of indigenous fuels and more efficient usage of all energy resources will be needed. Europe is already ahead; it now needs to make sure it wins the global green tech race.