Friday, February 13, 2009

the winds of change

As reported in the business daily E15 yesterday, the amount of wind power produced in the Czech Republic doubled from 2007 to 2008. That is excellent news.

In 2008, wind-generated energy supplied approximately 170,000 people with power. Still, wind power comprises only less than one percent of the total energy production in the Czech Republic.

Michal Janeček, the president of the Czech Wind Energy Association (ČSVE), estimates there is potential in the Czech Republic for manufacturing enough wind power to supply about 4 million Czechs with energy. In a country of just over 10 million people, that would be quite a large slice of the pie.

However, as stated on the ČSVE website, wind energy is the cheapest, but simultaneously the least-well compensated and least-funded renewable source in the Czech Republic.

According to the European Wind Energy Association, of which the Czech association is a member, "the European Union has set a binding target of 20% of its energy supply to come from wind and other renewable sources by 2020. In order to achieve this 20% energy target, more than one-third of the European electrical demand would have to come from renewables, with wind power expected to deliver 12-14%."

Can the Czech Republic live up to this standard? Last year, the amount of energy from all renewable sources combined was at approximately 4 percent of total energy production, while one third of energy was supplied by nuclear energy. Compare the numbers to Sweden, where clean energy sources account for 40% of energy production, Latvia where the rate is 35 %, Finland with a rate of 29 %, and Austria with a 23 % renewable source energy production rate.

According to E15, by the year 2010 the amount of renewable energy produced in the Czech Republic should be raised to eight, then by 2020 to 13 percent of total consumption. Those numbers are lower than the goals set by the European Union, but we have to consider that the Czech Republic is one of the smaller land-locked countries with not as much land mass and as many resources available as some of the other European countries.

The Czech Republic is also a relatively population-dense country, so the reality is such that wind turbines are never too far removed from "civilization." According to the green lifestyle-oriented website, the energy giant ČEZ plans to invest into wind energy. One of the company's first project is the planned construction of a wind farm in the Stříbro area. The people near the future site of the farm, however, are opposed to the project.

A study of the attitudes of Czechs toward wind turbines as part of the landscape was released last October. The study's results showed that local residents' support of wind energy projects tends to be much stronger once they have one to three years of experience with wind farms in their area than before the start of a new construction project. Therefore, the study concluded that "the rate of support for wind farms rises based on personal and direct experience with such projects in operation." When people lack information about wind energy projects, negative attitudes seem to take root. Some of the common concerns are: disruption of the feel of the landscape, the danger of ice chunks chipping away from the turbine, the interference with satellite signals, noise levels, and negative impact on birds and animals. Once given information and time, though, people eventually do warm up to this source of energy in their backyards. Still the eyesore issue is a big one whether before or after the installation of wind turbines.

Interestingly, about half the opponents of wind farms said they would support such a project if their region received economic benefits as a result. Surprise, surprise.

Wind energy will likely continue to be harnessed in increasing quantities in the Czech Republic, however, it will be in the hands of private companies, which tend to deregulate and inflate prices as time goes on. Let's hope the local people have a say and reep the benefits that can be associated with switching to renewable resources.

If interested, here is an overview and text of Czech legislation pertaining to curbing global warming and to government benchmarks and support for renewable energy sources.

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