By Dave Elliott
Renewable energy could supply Russia and Central Asian countries with all the electricity they need by 2030, and cut costs significantly, according to a new study from Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT) in Finland. It says that renewable energy is the cheapest option for the region and could make Russia very energy competitive in the future. A 100% renewable energy system for Russia and Central Asia would, it claims, be roughly 50% lower in cost than a system based on the latest European nuclear technology or carbon capture and storage.
The potential for renewables within the EU, new and old, is very large with several scenarios now suggesting that up to 100% of EU electricity could be generated by 2050 from these sources. Certainly it seems likely that the uses of wind power in particular will continue to expand. At the start of 2012, wind generation capacity was at around 94GW in the EU, led by Germany at about 29GW and Spain at 22GW. France was at about 6.8GW, Italy 6.7, the UK 6.5GW- it has risen since to 6.6GW with new offshore wind projects. But although so far all much lower, the new EU countries of central and eastern europe are also making their mark, for example in wind power, led by Poland at 1,616 MW, with Romania having 982MW, Bulgaria 612MW, Hungary 329MW, and the Czech Republic 217MW. And the prospects for expansion in the new EU are large. For example, the new EU renewable energy targets for 2020 are quite challenging, with many of the new EU countries expected to achieve significant increases.
However, there are also many countries on the boarders of the EU, some of them candidates for entry who might also contribute. For example, Turkey had 1.8GW of wind capacity by the end of 2011. Some others may be eligible at some point (for example perhaps Georgia, Albania and the Ukraine and even Armenia and Azerbaijan) but not most of the other ex-Soviet states in the Russian-led Commonwealth of Independent Stares) further east- for example Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. They have extensive untapped renewable energy resources.
These countries could well become net exporters of renewable power to the EU- since they have large resources and low populations. Their renewable generation potential, if Ukraine is included, comes to a total of about 32GW for wind and 46GW for hydro, with perhaps 50 TWh p.a. from wind and 300TWh from hydro, all by around 2020. That’s similar to the total electricity consumption in the UK- and that’s leaving out biomass and geothermal, which some of these countries have in plenty, which could supply electricity as well as heat. Longer term the potential is much larger. For example the total wind resource in Kazakhstan has been put at 210 GW.
It could be that as an EU wide supergrid emerges, extension into areas like this will become an important element, the wider geographical footprint ensuring better cross system balancing of locally variable renewables source like wind.
Although some good progress has been made, with the EU as a whole taking renewables increasingly seriously, the prognosis for the short to medium term in the eastern EU and also for those beyond, is mixed.
It is possible that many of the new EU countries will focus for now mostly on their often ample coal supplies and also back nuclear, while those further east may just focus on their gas and oil resources. Certainly, a major pre-occupation at present is getting any sort of energy they can, while trying to unlock themselves from reliance on Russia- and while also being able to sell oil and gas from the east to the EU: the current hot issue is the development of new power transmission and gas/oil pipeline links.
But it could be that as they come to realise the huge potential demand for green power in the EU, as well as the scale of their own large renewable resources, the eastern countries outside the EU, may look to exports and CDM and JI schemes, as well as to the GO Credit scheme, as a source of income.
Of course it might be argued that really they should simply use this energy themselves, so as to stop using coal, oil and gas, but there will obviously be a strong temptation to sell it to the EU- to earn desperately needed money to revitalise their economies.
The big unknown is Russia. It has a very large renewable potential (e.g. perhaps 60GW of wind by 2020 and perhaps 350GW long term), so far almost completely untapped, apart from hydro, with new renewables accounting for just 0.5% of the total power consumption. For example it only has 9MW of wind capacity in place at present, and a target of obtaining about 4.5% of its electricity from renewables by 2020, with just 25GW installed. This perhaps reflects Putin’s view that ‘You couldn’t transfer large electric power stations to wind energy, however much you wanted to. In the next few decades, it will be impossible’ and that nuclear energy was the only ‘real and powerful alternative’ to oil and gas, with other approaches to meeting future energy demand being seen as ‘claptrap.’
There is no shortage of views in, around and outside the EU hostile to the development of renewables, but with wind, solar, geothermal, biomass and, in some locations, the new marine renewables, all expanding rapidly, it would be foolish to try to ignore what many see as the main way ahead to a sustainable energy future, and also as a major economic and employment growth area.
The above is abstracted (and updated) from a paper reviewing the Open University ‘New Europe-New Energy’ project in a new Palgrave book, edited by Shmelev et al, on globalization and the environment entitled ‘Sustainability Analysis: An Interdisciplinary Approach’. The OU Energy and Environment Research Unit’s Central and Eastern Europe renewable/sustainable energy project started out looking at options and projects in the Baltic states and then moved on, via Romania and Bulgaria, to the Balkans, including projects in Croatia and then Albania. More recently, the OU team has been involved with a major EU-backed green energy project in Kosovo.