Accelerating the switch to renewable energy sources

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Source: European Commission, Environment DG

New research explores ways to encourage the transition to renewable energy systems and reduce reliance on fossil fuels. The study highlights the long lead times to implement renewable energy initiatives and warns that many countries may suffer energy shortages in the coming decades, unless prompt action is taken. Over 80 per cent of global energy use is derived from fossil fuels and between 2005 and 2006 the world increase in coal production was greater than increases in the use of renewable energies. There is heavy dependence on coal as an energy source around the world, especially in China, India, Indonesia, the Russian Federation and South Africa. Use of oil and gas is also rising, but fossil fuel resources are finite. Total conventional and non-conventional oil resources and gas reserves are likely to last only another 50 and 80 years respectively. Subsidies for fossil fuels continue, in the EU these were worth US$30 billion in 2005.

The study highlights the challenges associated with balancing the demands of competing interests. For example, how to convert land for growing energy crops, without having an impact on food resources. The study argues that financial resources currently spent on subsidies and tax breaks for mature renewables would be more effective supporting development of newer technologies.

A number of suggestions are made to accelerate the transition to renewable energy systems. These include:

  • ensuring the most appropriate renewable technologies are harnessed at suitable sites
  • providing financial support for research into promising technologies, especially solar and offshore wind energies
  • assessment of a comprehensive inventory of global oil and gas resources, coupled with projected future energy requirements
  • continual updating of climate model predictions
  • allowing planning authorities to assess the benefits of proposed renewable energy schemes
  • enabling domestic and district level micro-generation of renewable power that is appropriate and of a scale suitable for local conditions
  • helping poorer nations move from fossil-fuel based to renewable energies through the transfer of technology and financial support from wealthy nations reducing taxes and providing incentives for domestic and community investments in renewable and energy saving schemes
  • policy makers should engage with society to encourage investment in renewable technologies, a switch to renewable energy sources and entrust citizens to make their own decisions
  • setting feasible and achievable targets. Achievable targets help gain public acceptance and support.

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