Fast Company

Europe Enacts Trillion-Euro Energy Accord, But It Ain't Totally Green

nuke power station France

Europe has today committed to a trillion-Euro trans-continental energy grid, to reduce dependence on Mideast oil, strengthen energy supply resilience, and share spare energy more efficiently. But with a significant nuclear supply in the mix, it's not particularly green.

The various governments in the European Union (which constitutes the world's largest regional energy market, with 500 million citizens and over 20 million companies) signed an agreement that will see laws changed, and infrastructure created to hook up national and regional electricity grids to each other--and gas supply pipes too--by 2014.

The idea is that countries lacking resources to generate power to meet their demands could reliably buy it from elsewhere, and when there's a surplus in production in one region, it could be quickly shunted to neighboring regions experiencing a demand peak. This could instantly yield environmental benefits, as it results in a more stable regional energy production and consumption pattern, but it's also designed to reduce the exposure to risk: Russia has, for example, been very cavalier with its supply of gas and oil to former USSR states in Eastern Europe, and the new network will lessen the impact of embargoes and price fixing.

"No EU member state should remain isolated from the European gas and electricity networks after 2015 or see its energy security jeopardized by lack of the appropriate connections," said EU President Herman Van Rompuy.

But there's one slightly discordant item among the generally good news that will enrage some environmental observers: There's language in the agreement that enables nuclear power to take a central role in helping the EU, with its new super-grid, meet climate change reduction promises. Nuclear will thus take its place alongside "safe and sustainable low-carbon technologies," despite the fact that while it's not a greenhouse gas-emitting power source, it's also not a sustainable one.

The nuclear angle seems to be championed by France, which relies heavily on nuclear power to meet its own energy needs. Since its reactors are always "on," they could act as spare power generation systems for other EU nations when there's a surge in demand, such as first thing in the morning in Eastern Europe (while France is still largely asleep, due to time differences). This is good for France, and for the U.K.'s nuclear power plants, but it stands in stark contrast to another EU state, Portugal, which revealed that it met 45% of its own energy needs through the use of renewable energy sources (wave, wind, and solar) in 2010--a figure up 28% over just five years.

The Portuguese commitment to renewable energy aligns much more closely with a recent plan by Stanford researchers that would allow the world to switch to 100% renewable energy sources in just 40 years. The EU leaders, no doubt pushed by political disagreements, inertia, and the demands of existing power-generation companies, obviously didn't read the Stanford research.

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