BUYUSA.GOV -- U.S. Commercial Service

Europe

Environmental experts -- Is a trip to Europe in your future?

by Richard Steffens and Veronika Lukesova

When I think of renewable energy, my first thought is of new Age hippies who, in between picketing nuclear power stations and eating tofu and bean spouts, set up simple windmills and solar collectors on their communal farms in California. But renewable energy has turned into big business – and in few places it is potentially bigger than in Central and Eastern Europe.

Renewable energy causes minimal pollution, and you can never run out of it. ´Green energy´ reduces dependence on imported fossil fuels. Because of this, in 1997 the European Union (EU) gave all EU members a target of using renewable energy to produce 12 percent of energy by 2010, with even higher targets for years ahead. Countries that entered the EU in May 2004 (Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovak Republic, Slovenia) also are committed to using higher percentage of renewables. For example, the Czech Republic has committed itself to reach the goal of 8% of renewables by 2010. The table below shows current electricity production from renewable resources and expected structure in 2010.

2000 (GWH) 2010 (GWH)
Wind Power Plants 1 930
Small Hydropower Plants (up to 10MW) 680 1120
Large Hydropower Plants (over 10MW) 1165 1165
Power Plants on Biomass 200 2200
Geothermal Power Plants 0 15
Solar Power Plants 0 15
Total 2046 (3.2%) 5445 (8%)


For most of these countries, this is a daunting challenge. We have to go few years back in history to be able to understand. During the period of Soviet occupation of Central and Eastern Europe (a period which lasted from roughly 1945 to 1990), Soviet planners liked to build things big – the world’s biggest aluminum plant, world’s biggest dam, world’s biggest hotel, and so on. Such a philosophy – plus abundant oil and coal resources – naturally led to big power plants. The planners were less interested in development of renewables – unless of course it was making a river flow the wrong direction to set up a giant hydroelectric plant. Today, the Czech Republic now gets under 3 percent of its energy from renewable sources, far under the EU goal of 12 percent. Some other accession countries are even farther behind.

The EU has promised some financial help for this conversion, and governments have set aside some funds. But energy conversion is far too large for public sector funds alone. Central European – or EU for that matter – expertise on renewable energy lags far behind the U.S. skill level. U.S. technology is often better. Even more importantly, U.S. firms know how to find and structure renewable energy projects – blending public and private sector funds to make the projects viable. For the small environmental engineering firms resident in the United States, the challenge of introducing renewable energy technology to a new continent may seem daunting. But it isn’t – if it is looked at one project at a time.

Let me propose the following steps:

1. Find a local partner in one of the accession countries. The U.S. Commercial Service can help to do this through our Gold Key program. In fact, the environmental services sector is so hot right now that we organize special Gold Keys for small groups of U.S. companies, helping several at once to enter the market. In fact, we can help you use an Ecolinks Quick Response award to help finance your travel to meet with your partner.

2. Work with your local partner to identify one or two potential projects. In many cases, your partner – or a local Mayor or governor – may have identified a good site for a project.

3. Once you have found the right project and location, work with the local government to apply for feasibility study financing from the U.S. Trade and Development Agency (http://www.tda.gov). Thus far, USTDA has funded feasibility studies for nearly $3 million in renewable energy and waste-to-energy projects in Central and Eastern Europe, in the period 2000-2003.

4. Work with us to help put together financing for the project. We work regularly with attorneys, banks, and financial experts with expertise in this sector.

A final message to U.S. renewable energy specialists! Come here, we’re waiting.

Richard Steffens is commercial counselor at the U.S. Commercial Service, U.S. Embassy Prague, and Showcase Europe coordinator for the Environmental sector.
Veronika Lukesova represents Ecolinks, a U.S. AID-funded program that supports environmental projects in the Czech Republic.