Does Saving Energy Push Renewables?

Yes it does. Let us look at a concrete example in order to get the point. The EU plans to improve its energy efficiency by 20% by 2020. In other words, 20% less energy will be used by then, according to plans. The baseline is the primary energy consumption for 2010 which was 1770 Mtoe. Thus, if all measures are in place, by 2020 this figure should be down to 1416 Mtoe.

In all likelihood, the savings will concern almost exclusively the use of conventional energies (coal, nuclear, oil) whereas renewable energies will not be touched by this development. Therefore, we may safely assume that on the consumption side renewables will be equally well off  as they are now. In fact, this is a very conservative estimate. On the contrary, renewable energy use may well be expected to rise over the next decade. But let us stick to our conservative approach for the time being. In 2010, the consumption of renewables amounted to some 172 Mtoe corresponding to 9.7% of total consumption.

Fig. 1 EU Gross inland consumption in 2010

Given our  2020 scenario from above and keeping renewable consumption at 172 Mtoe, we may conclude that by then renewables account for about 12.2% of total consumption. Bear in mind that this is true even if energy production from renewable sources does not increase.

The projection for 2020 would consequently look like this.

Fig. 2 EU Gross inland consumption in 2020

Thus, by saving energy the relative weight of renewables in the energy mix is automatically increased. The bigger the savings on the one hand the bigger the extra share of renewable energies on the other.



Renewables in Europe 1: Biogas

Renewables are gaining ground in Europe and beyond. When talking about renewable energies most people think of solar cells and wind turbines. These are certainly the most prominent examples of energy sources which are supposed to be both, non-polluting and sustainable. However, that is not the full story. There are other renewables, too, contributing their share to the energy mix. One of them is biogas which, from a public point of view, is heavily underrated.

In Fig. 1 we see the development of biogas production in some selected European countries between 1991 and 2009. Some of them have developed extremely well during that period. All of those countries had particular years with outstanding performance. Of course, it is not possible to keep excessive growth rates of 60% or more over more than one year. The figure shows the percentage increase of biogas production with respect to the previous year. All raw data have been taken from Eurostat.

Fig. 1 Biogas production in Europe, % change compared to previous year

Summing up the changes over the period in question yields yet another picture (Fig. 2). Now we can see how production output climbed by a factor of almost 13 on EU average between 1990 and 2009. Some countries like Belgium and Germany have succeeded in outperforming the mean EU growth in the recent past. Both of them are likely to increase their production level in the near future. As both countries are determined to phase out nuclear within the next 10 to 13 years, biogas appears as one of the potential substitutes.

Fig. 2 Biogas production in Europe, 1990 = 100

The growth rates are obvious. Yet, some countries like Austria saw a decline in biogas production in 2008/09. This, however, seems to be a temporary feature only. Other countries too, like Germany in 2002/03, have seen phases of reduced energy production which were followed by a subsequent rise in biogas output.

These figures show the situation in countries where biogas has already a certain tradition. In some other parts of Europe, like Bulgaria and Romania, biogas has come to life less than 5 years ago. We may therefore expect a large potential for that energy source in these countries in the near future.