The headline “European Union Gets 23.4% of Electricity From Renewables” published in CleanTechies  on April 3rd and posted on Blowout Week 14  created a fair bit of email correspondence. Had wind and solar really made such inroads? Old hands knew that the statistic would include legacy hydro that may distort the message that was being sent. Where did the truth lie?
BP data  suggest that wind and solar accounted for 7.5% of EU+ electricity generation in 2012. So, is this a triumph or not?
Figure 1 Electricity generation in Europe according to BP . The 21 EU members reported by BP are included + “other countries” that may include some countries outside of the EU, such as those in the Balkans. Norway and Switzerland are also included since they are integral parts of the European grid. The EU appears to be succeeding in phasing out fossil fuel and nuclear based thermal power generation, but at what cost to the pocket of consumers, GDP growth and viability of the electricity grid?
In 1990, “renewables” accounted for 18% of EU+ generation. In 2012 that figure had grown to 28%. My inclusion of Norway and Switzerland will bias this figure higher than that reported by CleanTechies since these countries both have high hydro generation.
Figure 2 EU+ electricity generation including Norway and Switzerland.
The big picture is significantly affected by “other renewables” that includes geothermal, biomass, chicken litter and landfill gas. On the one hand I see virtue in extracting usable energy from these sources but on the other wonder what price the consumer is paying through ROCs ?
To be fair to CleanTechies, their report provides a detailed breakdown of the various renewable sources that lie behind their numbers. But their headline may well result in a false belief among members of the public and political establishment at the progress being made in the delivery of the Green Dream.
The crux of the argument lies in the cost to the consumer and the landscape of that thin green and red band (Figure 1). And to the legacy generators that are bearing the cost burden of losing market share and providing load balancing service at politically distorted low prices . In terms of the climate argument, there is only virtue in following this path if it goes to completion, that is the eventual abandonment of all fossil fuel fired power generation throughout the World. I believe the probability of that is near zero in the foreseeable future. Hence, this partial unilateral exercise by Europe is a Green vanity project that has no regard for the consequences for European citizens and commerce.
 CleanTechies: European Union Gets 23.4% of Electricity From Renewables
 Energy Matters: Blowout Week 14
 BP: BP: Statistical Review of World Energy 2013
 ROC: Renewables Obligation Certificate
 Energy Matters: Parasitic wind killing its host