EWEA 2012: A Summary


April 20, 2012

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The opening conference address is always a good barometer by which to judge the tone of the following days. In Copenhagen on Monday, it was no different.

Whilst Danish Crown Prince Frederick and Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt highlighted how far the industry has come, and naturally, the great leaps forward made by Denmark in the past 30 years, comments from EU Energy Commissioner Gunther Oettinger, and EWEA conference chair and Siemens Wind Power CEO, Felix Ferlemann, were more circumspect.

Mr Oettinger criticised recent cut backs in renewable energy subsidies highlighting their role in the decline of investor confidence in the industry. Fiscal austerity, he said, should not be an excuse to cut back renewable energy ambitions.

Without the confidence to look at projects beyond 2020 and the European roadmap beyond 2050, he noted, the future could be uncertain. He’s right of course, but here’s the conundrum: As yet there is still no mechanism available to provide potential wind energy investors with that crucial mix of enough risk to see a return, but safe enough to be seen as a long term asset class.

Carbon trading, hailed as the global solution to mixing the free hand of global capitalism with responsible and green development, hasn’t lived up to expectations. Oettinger pointed out that the carbon floor price is at an historic low, leaving the market without any impetus.

Felix Ferlemann, who characterised the industry as suffering from three distinct malaises, built on Oettinger’s comments: addressing regulatory uncertainty, infrastructure concerns and planning issues, he noted, is key to building investor confidence.

To listen to the two back-to-back provided an interesting contrast for two people calling for some urgent steps to be taken. The politician asked what the market makers could do, whilst the businessman asked what the politicians could achieve.

Both are right, and the answer isn’t simple. Ferlemann highlighted how the wind industry should look to the automotive sector for lessons in how to achieve economies of scale, but praised manufacturers for a re-investment rate of 5% into research and design – well above average.

Rounding of the week it’s obvious that individually, the industry is continuing to see some very positive developments – announcements this week from DONG, Siemens et al have been testament to that – but the elephant in the room grows larger. Governments aren’t necessarily going to provide the answer this time – and European investors have yet to truly seize the initiative. Let’s hope by the time we arrive in Vienna next year, the picture is a little clearer.

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