RENEWABLES:

Energy watchdog group claims IEA has underestimated renewable energy's role

An international energy monitoring and planning group has criticized the International Energy Agency for producing "misleading data" over the last decade that repeatedly underestimated the growth of wind power as an electricity source.

A leader of the organization of scientists and parliamentarians, called Energy Watch Group, asserted Friday in London that the growth of wind farms to produce electricity in 2007 was 417 percent greater than the IEA projected in its annual reports between 1995 and 2004.

Rudolf Rechsteiner, a member of the Swiss Parliament, accused the Paris-based IEA of delivering "misleading data and failing forecasts." He also questioned the IEA's future wind power forecasts, for the period 2016-30, which suggest the growth of wind power would slow down.

Rechsteiner gave a much more bullish forecast, asserting that wind power will continue to grow rapidly over the next two decades. "The driving force for this growth is not ecological or moral motivations, but the demonstrable economic advantages and supply security of wind power." He noted that the basic resource is essentially free.

The group's statement came as Europeans shivered in an unusual cold wave, an annoyance that has been exacerbated by Russian moves to cut natural gas shipments. The IEA had no immediate reaction to the group's assertions; however, its attention to "green" power issues has increased recently.

Nobuo Tanaka, executive director of the IEA, addressed the recent international climate conference in Poznan, Poland, by calling for a "green infrastructure that will enable the sustainable economy going forward." He called for cleaner power plants and greater promotion of energy efficiency as part of what he called a "clean energy New Deal."

'Timely planning' seen as solving problems scaling up wind power

At the London press conference, another member of Energy Watch Group, Hans-Josef Fell, a member of the German Parliament, issued a statement asserting that in the IEA's forecasts the availability of conventional energy supplies "is terribly overestimated and the potentials and growing speed of the renewable energies is terribly underestimated."

In 2007, according to the World Wind Energy Association, wind power provided slightly more than 1.5 percent of the planet's electricity. Energy Watch Group projected four future power scenarios. The most conservative one predicted that wind, solar and other renewables would provide more than 31 percent of the globe's electricity in 2025.

Werner Zittel, one of the group's energy experts, acknowledged that engineers face several large hurdles in scaling up wind power, including matching the ever-fluctuating supply of wind to the rigid demands of power grids and finding new ways to store electric energy. He predicted that "timely planning" will overcome these obstacles and that wind, along with hydro, solar, biomass and geothermal energy, "could deliver all our energy requirements within the first half of this century."

Energy Watch Group is supported by the Ludwig-Bölkow Foundation, located near Munich, Germany. It says its mission is to promote long-term energy research and planning.

The IEA was founded in 1973 after the Arab oil embargo to coordinate oil supplies in times of emergencies. The agency, which acts as energy policy adviser to 28 industrial countries, has since broadened its mandate to cover other energy sources as well as environmental protection and energy technology.

In Washington, leaders of two of the nation's renewable energy associations, the American Wind Energy Association and the Solar Energy Industries Association, held a joint press conference on Friday to say that growth in their industries could face "a dramatic reduction in 2009" unless Congress and the incoming Obama administration create more tax incentives for renewable energy.

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