Sustainable energy in Europe

Gunnar Boye Olesen reports on the primary issues underpinning discussions at the October 2003 Pan-European Sustainable Energy Seminar. He describes the current concerns, hopes and visions of sustainable energy non-governmental organizations in eastern and western Europe.

The author is European coordinator for the International Network for Sustainable Energy and is an editor of Sustainable Energy News.

The Pan-European Sustainable Energy Seminar was held 30th September to 4th October 2003 at Machynlleth, Powys, Wales. The seminar was organized by the International Network for Sustainable Energy (INFORSE), which is based at the Danish Organization for Renewable Energy (OVE), and the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) who hosted the meeting.

The seminar began with a discussion of the future of technologies for sustainable energy development, looking first at the increasing potentials of windpower. Participants considered there to be a positive future for windpower in Europe on land as well as off-shore and mainly in the area of electricity production. It is very likely that the new target of the European Wind Energy Association of 75,000 MW of windpower in EU-15 by 2010 can be reached.

A representative from the British Wind Energy Association outlined the opportunities. She was particularly enthusiastic regarding off-shore developments, where new technology and experience are continually reducing the costs. In so far as land-based wind turbines are concerned, installation rates are increasingly a question of social acceptance rather than a matter of technology. In Wales 90 per cent of applications for wind turbines are turned down because of local protests and planning issues. In France a similar picture is seen. Many of the participants saw local involvement and local investments as the way forward for the development of windpower on land. An immediate example for all participants, high above the seminar hall, is the first community-owned wind turbine in Wales which is positioned on a hilltop above the Centre for Alternative Technology. In another social context, a participant from Spain described how he wanted to develop locally-owned wind turbines in a deprived, former coal-mining area in north-west Spain, where he is working on community development projects.

Local financing for windpower and other renewable energy projects is increasing in Europe. The two main programmes for financial assistance and development information in Europe are the Wind Energy Local Financing (WELFI) programme and the Promotion of Renewable Energy (PREDAC) programme.

Another successful technology discussed at the seminar was that regarding solar- and passive-heated houses, that is, houses where energy conservation and solar energy provide almost all the heating needs. Germany is the leader in this field but experts from the Centre for Alternative Technology showed how these super low-energy houses are being built all over Europe. These low-energy “passive” houses work well in European climates, consuming only 10 to 25 per cent of the heat that ordinary houses use. While “passive” houses are not, at present, as popular a technology as windpower, they are truly revolutionary. Their technology can dramatically change the energy needs of housing with very little in the way of extra investment.

Participants at the Sustainable Energy seminar in Powys, Wales.

Representatives from the International Network for Sustainable Energy-Europe presented the global vision for the phase-out of fossil and nuclear energy use within 50 years. This vision has been elaborated upon for specific countries, showing the transition between 2000 and 2010.

Currently, national visions are developed or are under development for Denmark, Slovakia, Romania, Ukraine, and Belarus. If funds allow, visions will be developed for the European Union, both for the existing European Union and one for that including the ten new countries.

The seminar continued with an overview of the European political situation. European Union policy is increasingly setting the framework for the development of renewable energy and energy efficiency. The frameworks and policies are not consistent though. For example, at the same time as a number of policy measures in the way of directives and programmes are supporting renewable energy and energy efficiency, the European Union also has initiatives resulting from an extremely active nuclear power lobbying group.

In considering sustainable energy, the most important new European Union legislation is probably the new emissions-trading directive together with the “link directive” that is under negotiation. The latter will link European Union emissions trading with the Kyoto Protocols Joint Implementation and Clean Development Mechanism processes.

Participants were particularly interested in the European Unions structural funds which will be available to the new European Union countries in 2004. Several participants from these “new” countries voiced their concern that these funds could likely be wasted on large road projects and other unsustainable development projects.

An example of positive use of these funds was presented by representatives of the West Wales ECO Centre who explained how structural funds have been used in Wales for a number of projects for sustainable energy. Another excellent use of these funds is that they could be used for environmental and technical rehabilitation of the Central European energy structure, in particular for heat supply and for energy efficiency.

For some participants, another interesting piece of European Union legislation is the new “biofuels directive”. The biofuels directive presents a framework for the increased use of biofuels and other forms of renewable energy for transport. This could be achieved by using a locally-produced transportation fuel, a natural plant oil to be used in vehicles with motors adapted for this. Some participants feared, though, that such a directive will just lead to more intensive agriculture with increased use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

The promotion of nuclear power has been one of the cornerstones of European Union cooperation since the 1950s. At present, there is a fierce struggle ongoing between those who want to revive the troubled European nuclear industry and those who want the European Union to abandon its support for nuclear energy.

Antony Froggatt, an independent consultant to the Green Party in the European Union Parliament, explained some of the attempts being made to revive nuclear power. One of them is a proposal to increase European Union lending to the nuclear power industry with 2 billion Euros, on top of the 4 billion Euros in loans that have been given over the last 40 years. Some countries, with Germany leading, want to stop the proposal. Discussion surrounds the question as to whether the proposal should be agreed to by all countries or just by a qualified majority. Another possibility is that the supporters will leave the proposal on the table in the hope that the political climate will change some years from now.

The other major attempt by groups in support of nuclear power is through the “nuclear packet” which proposes directives for nuclear safety and for nuclear waste management. Opponents to the use of nuclear power have shown that they want to end the special European Union treaty, EURATOM, which supports the use of nuclear power. As negotiations on a new European Union treaty are currently underway, this is the best time to oppose the treaty. Friends of the Earth is leading the campaign. The immediate aim is to persuade European Union countries to hold an inter-governmental conference with full and open discussion regarding revision of the EURATOM Treaty.

The seminar concluded with a discussion about renewable energy communities in Europe. These communities were characterized in various different ways. Some local initiatives lead the way in the practical, everyday use of renewable energy, others are eco-communities, yet others are renewable energy islands or renewable energy towns or even regions. All of these communities are similar, though, in that their administrations are committed to a transition to renewable energy and the efficient use of energy. This final discussion was organized in cooperation with the European Renewable Energy Council, an association of renewable energy industries within the European Union.

After the main seminar had concluded, a general meeting of INFORSE-Europe was held setting priorities for the coming year. These included:

  • Participation in the preparations to the international renewable energy conference to be held in Bonn in June 2004, as well as in the conference itself. This is regarded as the most important meeting of 2004.
  • Continual monitoring of European Union energy and climate policies.
  • Organization of European sustainable energy seminars. These are to be held in Spain in a deprived former coal- mining area, in Croatia on the island of Solta, and in Germany at the Artefact centre for sustainable energy.
  • Continuation of the Distance Education on Renewable Energy (DIERET) and other education activities.

After the Pan-European seminar in Wales, some participants, including those from INFORSE as well as other non-governmental organizations, met on the 5th October in Bonn to discuss proposals for the International Renewable Energy Conference to be held in June next year. These organizations formed a coalition and issued the statement “Citizens United for Renewable Energy and Sustainability” (CURES) but that is another story.

Further information
International Network for Sustainable Energy (INFORSE), Gl. Kirkevej 82, 8530 Hjortshoj, Denmark. Fax: +45-86-227096. Email: Web:
Centre for Alternative Technology, Machynlleth, Powys, Wales SY20 9AZ, United Kingdom. Email: Web:

On the Web
Presentations, photos, INFORSE-Europe's present and planned activities, plus an overview of the European Union's policy for sustainable energy, are all available at The European Union's energy and nuclear energy policies are available at Details regarding financing for local windpower and renewable energy initiatives can be obtained at the Wind Energy Local Financing site at and at the Promotion of Renewable Energy site at

Participation at the seminar in Wales by representatives from Central and Eastern Europe was supported by the Danish Open Air Council.