Commissioner Stavros Dimas: Closing Speech at the Solar Solidarity Exhibition Solar Solidarity Exhibition

February 24, 2006

Brussels, 22 February 2006

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to speak to you today at this interesting and important exhibition, which is now coming to an end.

The exhibition has been organised by a dedicated group of our own European Commission stagiaires - Solar Solidarité is part of their initiative and I would like to warmly thank them for their inspiring commitment. I am particularly pleased that they are advocating solar energy and impressed by the creativity of this initiative.

As you can see, "the field of dancing sunflowers" designed by artist Dang has certainly been catching the attention of our colleagues and visitors, demonstrating the power of photovoltaic technology in a very solar and colourful way.

I would also like to thank the NGO Electriciens sans frontières for its involvement and support and for familiarising all of us with the very important projects they carry out to bring renewable electricity to developing countries. Initiatives of this kind should continue.

The importance of renewable energy

Solar energy and other sources of renewable energy have the potential to solve many problems of modern society. One of those is climate change – one of the greatest environmental, economic and social threats of our time.

The effects of climate change are becoming increasingly evident. The year 2005 was the hottest on record according to NASA. Europe witnessed devastating droughts, floods and forest fires last year. In the atmosphere, the heat-trapping greenhouse gases have reached concentrations higher than at any other time in the past 650,000 years. These concentrations translate into increasing temperatures, rising sea levels, extreme weather events and many other unpleasant and unwelcome effects.

Solar and many other renewable energy do not produce any greenhouse gases. This is one of the reasons why the European Commission is promoting and supporting them. We have set targets for renewable electricity in the EU and for the use of biofuels in transport, and we are now examining the measures taken in Member States to reach them. We are now pushing biomass as an energy source in the heating, electricity and transport sectors.

Europe's renewable energy resource base is remarkable: we are able to capture energy from the sun, the wind, and the heat of the earth; we can get energy from waves and tides, water, biomass, landfill gas, sewage treatment plant gas and biogases. All these resource bases by far exceed our energy needs in physical terms – and we are working hard to develop and improve the technologies to harvest renewable energy as much as possible so they become competitive.

But fighting climate change is only one of the reasons for which renewable energy should be supported and increased in the energy mix of the European Union. There are many more.

First of all, Europe's own oil, gas and coal reserves are running out. Today we import 50% of our energy needs, in two decades it will be 70% if nothing changes. The recent gas price dispute between Russia and Ukraine and the continued instability in the Middle East illustrate the precariousness of our situation and the uncertainty in which the European Union could be easily put. Renewables offer a way out of our dependency on imported fossil fuels.

Secondly, oil and gas prices have recently risen to heights not seen for many years. Many experts say that because of continuously growing demand from the booming economies of China and India the era of cheap oil is over. These experts recommend that we develop other energy sources to fuel our economies.

Thirdly, an estimated 1.7 billion people worldwide lack electricity. Only 8% of the population in certain African countries have direct access to electricity. Electricity and energy substantially contribute to the improvement of quality of life, mobility and educational standards, and bring economic opportunities and agricultural productivity. They decrease the dependency of developing countries from the fluctuations of the price of oil, they increase ownership of energy resources and they create job opportunities.

Renewables in the developing world

The exhibition here today underlines the suitability and potential of clean, efficient renewable technologies for developing countries. Solar energy is indeed a very good example. Many developing countries have extraordinary solar resources. Solar technology is also particularly appropriate for areas where no energy infrastructure or networks have been developed as it could be easily used in households and small communities. In fact, it can be employed to generate electricity and cook food or heat water, to name but a few applications.

I therefore applaud Solar Solidarité’s aim to raise funds to carry out essential projects in the developing world using solar technology. Solar Solidarité focuses on the solar electrification of schools, a project which will be carried out by Electriciens Sans Frontières and which will ensure multiple benefits for local people. It would be very good if we could all donate something to this project.

The importance of raising awareness

But, apart from the concrete benefits that this project will bring to developing countries, I would also like to congratulate Solar Solidarité for their work on raising the profile of renewables.

Understanding the potential of renewables can induce scientists, researchers, governments and business to invest time and effort into developing renewable energy technologies. It can also encourage private citizens to switch to green electricity where this is an option and to install micro renewables in their homes.

Each citizen has the power to make a difference in the fight against climate change, in contributing to increase energy security and in making a contribution to sustainable energy use. This kind of support will be essential to realise the renewable targets in the EU, to decrease the dependency of the European Union from energy imports and to halt climate change.

In closing, I would like to thank everyone present today for supporting this initiative and wish Solar Solidarité every success in their valuable work.

Thank you for your attention.

Item source: SPEECH/06/118 Date: 23/02/2006

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