Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The rural route to a more energy-secure Europe

Rob Vierhout in EurActiv: In 2014, Europe is remembering the tragic consequences of two World Wars.  The under-rated miracle of the European Community, then Union, not only helped to deliver Western Europe from a state of self-destruction to peace, but also provided the framework for almost 50 years of steady economic growth and the creation of a European social model that is the envy of the world.

However, a mixture of globalisation, technology and sometimes-misguided policies is now combining to threaten this stability. As Europe struggles to recover fro
m its worst economic crisis for nearly 100 years, we face a huge challenge to remain competitive, provide good jobs for our youth, and regain our leadership position.

Energy is at the heart of this struggle. As the first continent to industrialise, Europe has already used up much of its indigenous fossil fuel resources. Even if it has become a world leader in solar and wind technology, Europe currently relies extensively on energy imports. Last year, more than half of all the continent’s energy came from outside its borders. In the transport sector, this is even worse with 94% of its energy coming from oil, of which 84% is imported from politically unstable regions.

...In this context, renewable energy sources should rightly take centre-stage. We can use the sun, the wind, even the tides to make power, which will not be influenced by global politics. But, what about Europe’s plentiful land?

Using agricultural products, including increasingly agricultural and forest residues as well as municipal waste to make ethanol, represents a huge opportunity for Europe to reduce its reliance on imports in the transport fuel sector.

This is just the beginning. There are at least 1.7 million hectares of unused farmland in Europe.  The FAO stats tell us that the EU 28 is abandoning 0.5m hectares of additional farmland every year.  Only 0.7% of Europe’s agricultural land is currently being used to produce crops for ethanol – less than the total area of unused land in Romania alone. If we put this abandoned farmland to work, and take advantage of increased agricultural yields, the production of European renewable ethanol using European feedstock could easily double production of ethanol in no time. ...

A combine harvesting a field in the Czech Republic, shot by Podzemnik, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 3.0 license

No comments: