EFEF 2010: What’s stopping European renewables? UPDATED

Several important themes have come from the first session of the European Future Energy Forum here in London, where among the speakers were European energy ministers, campaigners and industry executives. I will try and write a bit more about them later on today, but here were some of the dominant themes of the discussion. These were the dominant topics at the initial debate, which looked at the challenges currently facing European renewables (which I have now updated with quotes).

We need a high and stable carbon price. Everybody agreed on this, nobody seemed to have particularly strong ideas on how to achieve it. There were hints the British government would be willing to make industry pay a heavy price. Lord Howell, the foreign office minister, said:

The government has got to keep its nerve and do some brave things which are highly unpopular and likely to lose nice votes. This is getting if anything more difficult, as gas gets very cheap, and the gap with renewables widens. We need to get costs down and carbon price up.

But seeing as everyone agreed that international action was needed to set a high carbon price and that it was unlikely to be forthcoming, it didn’t appear to be a very optimistic discussion.

Cancun can? Danish energy minister Lykke Friis and Portuguese energy vice minister Carlos Zorrinho clashed over how much can be achieved at Cancun.

Ms Friis said:

I would love to say Cancun can but it will not be able to produce a legally binding deal. It will not be a hole-in-one.

(The joke among media wags at Copenhagen, by the way, was I can’t Copenhagen this any more.)

The right skills are more important right now than the right subsidies. This was echoed by several industry figures, but can governments deliver?

Renewable energy providers criticised governments for failing to be consistent and joined up, ministers said they charged too much. Lord Howell at one point exclaimed: “You guys need to lower your costs!”

Nobody, not even the environmental campaigners at Greenpeace or the WWF, thought the Severn Barrage was a particularly good idea.

David Nussbaum, CEO of WWF, said:

This is a remarkably venerable [I think he meant old-fashioned] approach to harnessing the energy capacity of the Severn. We could have a more flexible approach that could also be exported overseas.

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