Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Energy Costs Weighing on Europe

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Energy Costs Weighing on Europe

Article excerpt

Europe has poured tens of billions of euros into clean energy initiatives, but the effort has yet to become financially sustainable. Instead, the Continent is likely to have only exported its emissions elsewhere.

On Dec. 19, Voestalpine, an Austrian maker of high-quality steel for the auto industry, announced that it would build a plant in North America that would employ natural gas to reduce iron ore to a kind of raw iron that would then be used in the company's European blast furnaces.

Asked whether he had considered building the plant in Europe, Voestalpine's chief executive, Wolfgang Eder, said that the "calculation does not make sense from the very beginning." Gas in Europe is much more expensive, he said.

High energy costs are emerging as an issue in Europe that is prompting debate, including questioning of the Continent's clean energy initiatives. Over the past few years, Europe has spent tens of billions of euros in an effort to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The bulk of the spending has gone into low-carbon energy sources like wind and solar power that have needed special tariffs or other subsidies to be commercially viable.

"We embarked on a big transition to a low-carbon economy without taking into account the cost and without factoring in the competitive impact," said Fabien Roques, head of European power and carbon at the energy consulting firm IHS CERA in Paris. "I think there will be a critical review of some of these policies in the next few years."

Both consumers and the industry are upset about high energy costs. Energy-intensive industries like chemicals and steel, if not closing European plants outright, are looking toward places like the United States that have lower energy costs as they pursue new investments.

BASF, the German chemical giant, has been outspoken about the consequences of energy costs for competitiveness and is building a new plant in Louisiana.

"We Europeans are currently paying up to four or five times more for natural gas than the Americans," Harald Schwager, a member of the executive board at BASF, said last month. "Energy efficiency alone will not allow us to compensate for this. Of course, that means increased competition for all the European manufacturing sites."

The expansion in renewables will probably ensure that Europe will meet its target of reducing greenhouse gases 20 percent from their 1990 levels by 2020. But it has been a disappointment on other levels.

For one thing, emissions continue to rise globally. In a sense, Europe is likely to have exported its emissions to places like China, where polluting economic activity continues to increase while the European economy stagnates.

A striking indicator that the European effort has not achieved all that it intended to is the continued rise in the burning of coal, by far the biggest polluter among fossil fuels.

The International Energy Agency, a Paris-based group formed by consumer nations, recently said that coal was likely to catch up with oil as the world's largest source of energy in a decade. …

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