This is part of a series about the EU Parliament and needed policies. The articles in this series are:
- The EU Parliament Elections & Why They Matter — EU Renewable Energy Politics
- European transition to renewable energy is impossible without the EU (this one)
- Will electric flying overtake high speed trains
- North Sea long term vision needed
European Transition to Renewable Energy is Impossible without the EU
Energy management used to be local. The farmer had his own windmill for pumping water and later generating electricity. The miller had his own cart wheel in the local brook. The smith had his fireplaces, the baker his wood-heated oven, every factory its own steam machine. Electricity and gas came from the local utilities.
That has changed. Efficiency made bigger plants more economical. Stability made interconnections worthwhile for times of blackout, or potential blackout. Natural gas asked for distribution pipes from the sources to the consumers. The first consolidations were on the level of municipalities — groups of municipalities. Then they went up to the next level.
Now energy management and policy is mostly at the level of regions, states (as in Germany), or smaller nations — with some overall policies in the case of nuclear or environmental regulations on the national level. In the last century, all those consolidation were for efficiency and regulation. It was logical to have one power plant and its distribution area in one organization and under one authority. Hello, modern utilities and their regulatory commissions.
This works well for the current types of energy production and distribution. It is inadequate for the organization and management of energy production/distribution when we transition to renewable energy.
The main types of renewables are wind, solar PV, and hydro. Hydro is essentially stored energy from streaming water. It can even be restored by pumping it up after using it, using power from wind or solar to do so.
Wind and solar are pure, direct manifestations of the sun’s energy pouring over earth. They are great, inexhaustible, will always exist, and are available everywhere. That is, the wind always blows somewhere and the sun always shines somewhere. But not always where you are and when you want to use it.
When the sun is over the hemisphere that is occupied by the Pacific, it is of not much use to most people, except those on the islands and ships in the Pacific — but that is a small population.
Ignoring for the moment the problem of the sun at night, discussed later, the availability of solar and wind depends on the weather. To have the adage about sun and wind always being available somewhere come true, that somewhere needs to be larger than the weather systems. The area of the EU is hardly large enough to cover that somewhere. Preferably, it should include part of North Africa — say, sunny Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and the Ukrainian plains.
The EU can transition to renewable energy when energy production and distribution is managed on the scale of the EU. The argument for countries with large hydro resources will be that those resources are more profitable when used in conjunction with wind and solar. The profits and ownership of the power plants — wind, hydro, and solar — can stay local. The overall system and regulations need to be at the EU level.
A 100% renewable energy Europe is possible, but only when parts of Ukraine below one meter of snow can get their energy from sunny Spain and the windy North Sea, when cloudy Western Europe can get energy from the winds of Eastern Europe, when the lights on still-wind nights get their electricity from Sweden’s hydro generators, when … I think you get the idea.
Weather systems are easily a few thousand kilometers across. You have to go bigger.
At the moment, France does not want a high-capacity HVDC (High Voltage Direct Current) line from Spain’s solar parks to German consumers. It is competition for France’s nuclear power plants. We can’t afford those kinds of local considerations. We need a higher authority that can apply eminent domain rulings to this kind of obstruction. We need the EU.
Image courtesy Jacques Descloitres and Ana Pinheiro, MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC
These kinds of border-crossing HVDC networks are essential to a European renewable energy solution. France should have autonomy for local French energy production and distribution, and Bayern should have the same rights for its territory. Neither should have authority over European renewable energy infrastructure other than advice and consent. They should not be able to block a neighbor on one side from doing business with a neighbor on the other side, or even their own inhabitants.
As long as the energy management is local and (pseudo) private, we will keep strong powers from fighting for gas, coal, and lignite, and against competition from other regions. We will see them offer cheaper and cleaner energy to their customers — that is, the people they have locked in by way of contracts, local regulations, and infrastructure.
It is not an EU-owned and managed utility I am thinking of. It is an EU energy market without borders and without monopolies that only the EU can create.
To create this, we need a strong EU Parliament, a parliament with members that understand the threat of global warming and the need for EU-wide solutions.
To get this parliament, the proponents of renewable energy and survival need your vote.
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