Opinion, Berkeley Blogs

European partnership could signal a new direction for renewable energy

By Patrick Donnelly-Shores

President Francois Hollande of France announced a new renewable energy partnership between the French and German governments last week. The idea, modeled on the Airbus partnership, would expand cooperation between the governments on renewable energy projects.

Airbus, which began in the 1960s, was formed as a joint partnership between primarily between French and German corporations, with Dutch and British involvement as well. The corporation’s formation was spurred on by high level cooperation between the French and German governments, which gave rise to an airline industry superpower, able to rival American aviation giants such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

There are some distinct similarities between the airline sector in the 1960s and the renewable energy sector today. While some European firms have seen success in renewables, perhaps  most notably the German company Siemens, they have largely fallen behind international competition, primarily from China. A new renewable energy partnership might offer European corporations the ability to pool resources and achieve global parity in manufacturing and deployment.

There are important reasons for the merger announcement. In the wake of the Fukushima disaster, the German government decided to phase out nuclear energy within 10 years. Nuclear made up 12 GW of total German energy production, to the tune of 18% of total energy supply. France, for its part, was even more reliant on nuclear, and while not phasing it out completely, Hollande pledged to reduce nuclear from its current 75% of supply down to 50%. These actions leave a gaping hole in both nations’ energy supply, one that could potentially be filled by renewables.

And indeed the nuclear sector offers a glimpse into why a renewable energy partnership could signal a new direction in the sector. While aided by renewable energy mandates and subsidies, renewable energy has largely been the domain of the private sector. Nuclear energy, on the other hand, was originally deployed through government-led initiatives and investment. If the French-German partnership signals greater direct involvement from national governments in renewable energy deployment, it could be a watershed moment in the gradual global shift to renewables.

Cross-posted from BERC Blog, published online by the Berkeley Energy & Resources Exchange, a network of UC Berkeley scholars and industry professionals.