IOA News Letters Summary

Michel Gauthier, IOA Core Group chairman.

On March 30 & 31, 1992, with the financial support of the European Community Commission, the IOA organised a workshop in Brussels to inform the Commission about OTEC and DOWA development and potentiai. Despite the success of the meeting itself and the relevance of the recommendations expressed in their report by the team of invited experts, this initiative lead to a meagre yield because nothing concrete resulted from it. For the 6 years following the workshop, OTEC/DOWA have been of little or no interest for the "Eurocrates" in Brusselsii . This attitude was not really discriminatory against OTEC since the initiatives of the European Union (EU) for developing potential resources of Renewable Energy (RE) have been, in general, rather timid. This is the situation but it is changing due to the increasing pressure from public opinion and thanks to the rising political role of the EU Parliament.

The shares of energy from renewable sources in the European Union gross inland energy consumption differ widely between Members States, from less than 1% to over 25%. As a whole the share is less than 5%. (Table 1iii). Numbers indicate that - except for Sweden, Austria and Finland - renewables are a marginal source of supply. Several reasons can explain this situation. Some reasons are technical, others deal with politics and economy.  

The average costs for electricity generated in Europe using renewable sources have been evaluated as follows : Photovoltaic 32.5 EMU cents per Kwh, hydroelectric 8.25, geothermal 7, wind 5.8, biomass 5.5. These prices are to be compared with 4.5 EMU cents for traditional power costsiv . Most of the European renewable energy production comes from hydroelectric power plants and since the best sites have already been equipped, any new project leads to limited increase in production and to heavier investments. The same rationales apply to geothemal. For other renewable sources, private companies generally consider the resources to be too diluted and able only to supply a very small share of the needs, that the production plants are too space and capital consuming, and that the tapping technologies are risky. For energy supply companies which have to face deregulation and competition of the energy market in the EU, there is no incentive for developing alternative sustainable energy resources. But the situation can certainly be changed if legislation with some financial incentive for R E production is introduced.

In Europe the dependence on energy imports is 50% and if no action is taken it is expected to rise to over 70% by 2020v. The general public opinion - very largely for environmental reasons - favours the development of RE and many politicians acknowledge that investing in renewable energy can generate economic and social (including environmental) long term benefits. In 1997 the European Parliament established a strategy to double renewable energy's share in providing power in Europe by 2010 . Under the EU Parliament pressure, the Commission, i.e. the arm of the EU's executive body, has recently issued a white paper proposing a community strategy for RE developmentvi . In the introduction of the document the Commission acknowledges that the RE "are insufficiently exploited although many of them are abundantly available" and RE deployment "can be a key feature in regional development ". The paper highlights issues such as "the expected growth in energy consumption in many third countries which to a large extend can be satisfied using RE offers promising business opportunities for European Industries" and "the penetration of the renewable energy sources is very important to achieve the reduction in GHg emissions agreed at the climate conference in Kyoto". It is estimated that doubling the share of RE by 2010 could generate an EMU 17bn export business and create 500.000 jobs over the same period.

The main EU strategy's target is photovoltaic energy which is proposed to have a sixteen fold increase. In Table 2, item 8, "Others", refers to solar thermal power, tidal power ocean currents, wave power, hot dry rock and ocean thermal energy conversion, for which the current market in the European union is non-existent". Nevertheless with great prudence the authors admit that "some of these technologies will "undoubtedly offer significant potential in the future" and "at least one of these renewable sources will have started to be exploited commercially over the coming decade or so". This prediction justifies the 1 GW allocation. A total investment of 165 billion EMU has been estimated necessary to achieve this goal.

One could thank the white paper's author for his prediction that seems rather favorable to RE although with the present state of development there are not really many technically and financially foreseeable ways - except maybe for tidal energy - to reach that 1 GW number in one decadevii.

As for OTEC itself there is little doubt that in their hidden thoughts the authors of the European Commission strategy paper have not seriously considered it as a contributor to that 1 GW prediction. The reason is that the Commission experts consider only "indigenous" sources which can "contribute to reducing dependency on energy imports and increasing security of supply", and in their one decade short term vision OTEC is not supposed to respond to that requirement.

It is true that OTEC/DOWA principles and technologies are imposed by the oceanographic parameters in the tropical zoneviii . For the Eurocrates this constraint has given support to the wrong idea that the development of Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion and other Deep Ocean Water Applications are not relevant for European industry since European main land is not located in the tropical zone. This is a very weak argument that IOA should oppose to for at least two reasons.

The first reason is for the short and mid terms, the European industry should consider the OTEC/DOWA as a potential world market for equipment and not as an "indigenous" exploitable resource to supply the European mainland market although the interested overseas European territories could offer an appropriate testing ground as their contribution to the development of the OTEC/DOWA technologiesix . There are many companies in Europe that make profits exploiting non "indigenous" resources, e.g. France has no indigenous offshore oil but the French services and equipment industry generate almost 3 billion EMU and 13000 employmentx.

The second reason to oppose is that for the longer term the transformation of energy produced on open sea OTEC platforms under transportable forms (NH3, H2, hydrates or other) will render obsolete the concept of "indigenous renewable resource", as used in the European Commission documentxi .

This brief analysis of the OTEC/DOWA status in the European Union can serve as an approach for IOA - and more specially to its European members - to develop a proper strategy to give OTEC/DOWA a legitimate share of the budget of the European Union allocated to Research and Development.

Table 1 . Renewable Energy in the European Union : Share in gross inland Energy Consumption. 

EU Countries shares in %

in 1990

in 1995

Austria

22.1

24.3

Belgium

1.0

1.0

Denmark

6.3

7.3

Finland

18.9

21.3

France

6.4

7.1

Germany

1.7

1.8

Greece

7.1

7.3

Ireland

1.6

2.0

Italy

5.3

5.5

Luxembourg

1.3

1.4

Netherlands

1.3

1.4

Portugal

17.6

15.7

Spain

6.7

5.7

Sweden

24.7

25.4

United Kingdom

0.5

0.7

Total for EU in %

5.0

5.3

 

 

 

Table 2 . Estimated contributions by sectors in the 2010 EU energy scenario

Type of Energy

share in 1995

projected share in 2010

Wind

2.5 GW

40 GW

Hydro

92 GW

105 GW

< Photovoltaic

0.03 GW

3 GW

< Biomass

44.8 Mtoe

135 Mtoe

Geothermal electric

0.5 GW

1 Mw

Geothermal thermic

1.3 GWth

5 GWth

Solar Thermal collectors

6.5 Million sq.m

100 Million sq.m

Passive solar

¡@

35 Mtoe

Others

¡@

1 GW