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In consideration of strategic climate change, energy security, and economic competitiveness goals, the EU Commission proposed a directive on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources (COM (2008) 19 final) to the EU Parliament and Council calling for a binding target of 20% EU renewable energy consumption by 2020. This target is comprehensive and includes energy generation, transport, heating and cooling sectors. In 2005, the share of renewable energy in the primary European energy supply was 6.4%. Meeting the 20% renewable energy target will require massive changes regarding the production, transmission, and consumption of energy in the European community.
Over the past century, the European electricity system was developed promoting the idea of large, centralized coal-,hydro-,nuclear- and more recently, gas-fired power based on a national utility perspective. Bioenergy sources and electricity from on- and offshore wind are expected to represent the largest increases of RES in Europe by 2020. Investment decisions for new energy infrastructures and technologies typically are taken on a the regional level. However, broader policy-oriented objectives, such as EU targets, are formulated on national and European levels. SUSPLAN bridges this gap by conducting regional case studies to connect regional implementation of energy infrastructures with national or European strategic targets.
The majority of decisions regarding actual investments in new energy technologies and energy infrastructure are taken at the local/regional levels by local/regional governments (regional councils, city councils, environmental protection agencies, etc.), by the energy industry (grid companies, producers, suppliers, etc.) and by other private companies (technology vendors, engineering companies, construction companies, financial institutions, etc.). These decisions are also strongly influenced by local/regional stakeholders, such as land owners, farmers, private and/or industrial consumers, environmental organizations and other local/regional interest groups. Although, policy-oriented goals are set at higher levels, actual implementation is strongly influenced by a number of local/regional conditions that will vary per situation and region.
Limitations - but also opportunities - are highly dependent on the current situation with respect to existing energy technology and infrastructure within given region. The availability of local/regional energy resources (wind, hydro, biomass, etc.) and/or energy markets (electricity, gas, heat, etc.) will place strong limitations concerning the feasibility and competitiveness of new technologies. In a liberalized market, new solutions must strictly compete commercially, while in a regulated environment, political incentives and regulations have a stronger influence on decisions. Furthermore, future energy demand is largely unknown. Significant efforts and policy development are necessary to mitigate future increases in energy demand. Energy demand aspects, such as the efficiency standards of buildings or industrial processes, consumer behavior towards energy consumption (household consumption, personal transport, etc.) and other factors must be evaluated.
Determination of optimal sustainable development plans based on technical, environmental and economic criteria does not necessarily lead to implementation. The role of regional decision makers, which include public and private actors, and local decision processes, must also be analyzed. Decision making and policy formation at the national and European levels must design sustainable development goals with comprehensive understanding of technological and commercial viability at regional levels.