How Clean Energy Can Solve the Greek Finance Crisis

How Clean Energy Can Solve the Greek Finance Crisis

Last week, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou asked to activate a financial lifeline for his struggling country, requesting as much as 45 billion euros (US$60 billion) in aide from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. It will take time for Greece to get back on its financial feet, and the ripple effects of this crisis are being felt in European capitals from London to Berlin.

Beyond the difficult and immediate impacts this will have on the citizens and businesses in Greece and elsewhere, as an environmentalist, I'm also wondering what it will mean for the EU member states' commitment to cut emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050?

A new report -- authored by the European Climate Foundation with technical and economic analysis by Imperial College London, KEMA, Oxford Economics, McKinsey & Company, E3G and the Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands -- has some surprising answers. The analysis, called Roadmap 2050, found that in each of the low or no carbon pathways it examined, projected electricity costs are comparable to costs using current carbon-intensive infrastructure. In other words, we can either cut our carbon footprint and mitigate environmental impacts or not, for the same price!

How is that possible? It turns out that the capital cost of building new renewable power facilities will be huge, but the operating costs of renewable power generation are far lower than for conventional power stations. And Europe's aging energy infrastructure will have to be updated no matter what. An update that includes wind turbines, solar farms and smart grid technology looks good when compared with replacing crumbling coal plants.

The common myth is that increasing dependence on renewable energy would be unreliable, overly expensive and would require not-yet- available technology breakthroughs. On the contrary, Roadmap 2050, "has found all of these assertions to be incorrect."

As European leaders grapple with where and how to make investments that will create jobs and lead to a more prosperous future, I hope they'll consider Roadmap 2050 as their travel guide.

Gwen Ruta, vice president for Corporate Partnerships at Environmental Defense Fund, spearheads the organization's work with leading multinational companies to develop innovative, business-based solutions to environmental challenges and drive change through the corporate value chain. Her post is available at EDF's Innovation Exchange blog and is reprinted with permission.