Is the EU over-stating the cost of wind and solar power?

Jessica Shankleman

Greenpeace urges Commission officials to look again at falling costs of renewable energy technologies as it prepares 2030 climate package

Brussels officials may be underestimating the potential growth of wind and solar capacity under the EU's new 2030 climate and energy package, according to a new Greenpeace analysis which argues that steep falls in the cost of renewable technologies could lead to a greater than anticipated deployment of clean energy over the next 15 years.

In new analysis published today, Greenpeace's Energy Desk website finds stark differences in the cost estimates for solar technologies used by the European Commission and Germany's Fraunhofer Institute - in some cases leaving a gap in cost projections of as much as 50 per cent.

The Commission's impact assessment for its 2030 climate and energy framework proposals, suggest large scale solar plants will deliver power at a capital cost of €2,000/kW in 2015. But the Fraunhofer Institute estimates ground mounted solar schemes in Germany have already seen costs fall to between €1,000 and €1,400/kW.

Significantly, the Fraunhofer report was published last autumn, well before the Commission unveiled its proposals in January, leading Greenpeace to fear that officials have ignored crucial research and underestimated the potential for green energy in its 2030 proposals.

As Environment Ministers in the European Council prepare to meet in Greece tomorrow to discuss the 2030 framework for the first time, Greenpeace is now calling on the Commission to recalibrate its estimates using the new figures. "The European commission is soon to make crucial decisions about our energy future based on estimates that are already past their 'use by' date," said Greenpeace UK energy campaigner Louise Hutchins.

Greenpeace also highlighted separate research, suggesting the Commission may have similarly overestimated the cost of wind power. Data produced by the Swedish Wind Energy Association earlier this year argued that onshore wind power in Sweden is already cheaper than the Commission's estimates for 2050 and that the investment cost of offshore wind power in the Baltic Sea is already lower than the investment cost predicted for 2050.

"Their assessment is wildly optimistic about the soaring costs of nuclear coming down, yet strangely reluctant to take in the massive price drop for solar and onshore wind," added Hutchins. "Either the clean energy revolution is happening too fast for the Brussels bubble to take notice, or, more likely, the fossil fuel and nuclear lobbies have once again managed to twist the facts to their advantage. Whichever the case, EU bosses should take another look at their cost estimates and step up their support for renewables and energy efficiency, which are the most practical ways to increase our energy and climate security, create jobs, and bring bills under control."

But the European Commission defended its calculations, arguing the complex analysis was based on the "most recent authoritative and comparable data for all 28 Member States", and maintained that the technology costs were calculated at the "latest possible moment".

But as the 2030 package comes under increasing scrutiny ahead of a final decision expected in the autumn, the renewable energy industry and green groups will be hoping the new analysis will increase pressure on the Commission to reconsider plans for a specific renewables target, or at the very least look again at its calculations and accept that green energy could play a much bigger role in the energy mix through to 2030.

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