Wind farms that are now popping up like mushrooms all over the world are not sustainable at all. That is the opinion of Nicola Rossi, the leader of the innovation department for green energy generation at the Italian energy company Enel. This is what he said in an interview with Patrick Child, the Deputy Director of the Research & Innovation Department at the European Commission.
“The problem with the energy that we as Enel generate from sun and wind isn’t that it is unable to compete with energy generated on the basis of fossil fuels. This has been possible for a while now. We plan to invest €40 billion in green energy generation over the next three years. We’re building new factories for this purpose with a total capacity of 14 gigawatts. Which we are doing that without any subsidies.”
Enel now has a total of 1300 energy parks in various countries all over the world. These have the capability of generating 46 gigawatts of energy.
Will wind turbines soon end up on the scrapheap?
A major problem, however, is that part of the growing number of parks with wind turbines and solar panels will also be ready for the scrapheap within ten years. Then they will be worn out and thrown away,’ said Rossi. “That’s something we can already foresee. What are we going to do about it? A lot of those parts can’t be recycled or used again. That’s not sustainable at all. We need to develop technology that makes that feasible.”
This can be done by redesigning parts such as turbine blades. “But we can also do that by thinking more carefully about the integration of solar panels on land, for instance, Rossi remarked. “Land is also a source in its own right, like in agriculture. You could link the use of solar panels to that.”
Billions of euros earmarked by the European Commission for research
Rossi was invited by the European Commission during the Research & Innovation Days 2020 to present his vision on how to spend money on research and innovation over the next seven years. The budget for this amounts to billions. Funding is available from the Horizon Fund for innovation. But also from the Recovery Fund where the European Commission lends €750 billion through the capital market. There is also money for sustainability included in the European Commission’s regular budget funds. The European Commission, under the leadership of President Ursula von der Leyen, is determined to realize the transition from fossil energy to renewable energy in Europe by 2030.
Some European Commission politicians and policy advisers have so far frequently addressed emotional arguments. Such as President of the Club of Rome, Sandrine Dixson-Decleve, who was also present at the discussion. She argued that “we must save the planet” by “decarbonizing it as soon as possible.” By this, she meant that we have to get rid of fossil fuels that release large amounts of CO2.
‘Fossil fuels were once the solution too’
The political will of the Member States to forge policy on this is indeed indispensable if Europe is to meet the objectives of the Green Deal and reduce more than half of its CO2 emissions by 2030.
Nevertheless, there are also risks involved with such a rapid energy transition. This can clearly be seen in Rossi’s analysis. In the last century, the use of fossil fuels was a solution for transporting people all over the world, for one thing. Now fossil fuels themselves are the problem. Wind and solar energy are the present-day solutions. Yet their manufacture also causes problems in the future if factories [wind and solar parks, ed.] that generate energy are not made with sustainable components,” Rossi stated.
Wind and solar parks will have to become bigger and bigger
Pressure on energy companies to generate inexpensive renewable energy is considerable, he stated in his appeal to the European Commission. “The market is competitive. The supply of solar and wind energy is growing faster than expected. As a result, parks need to keep on expanding in size in order to remain competitive and generate energy as efficiently as possible.”
The complexity of construction and operation of these plants is also substantial, Rossi pointed out. “Geographical conditions of the wind and solar power generation sites vary greatly from country to country.”
Moreover, the technology is developing and innovating at a rapid pace. “Therefore, we need to keep on investing in research.”
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