This month's International Conference for Renewable Energies in Bonn was hailed as a positive step forward by German federal environment minister Jürgen Trittin and federal development minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul.
"The conference was a complete success," they declared on Friday. "Together the delegates have paved the way for a global transformation in energy structures and for a massive increase in the use of renewable energies. This will alleviate global poverty and protect the climate."New international goals for the increased use of renewables were laid down, with an action plan to mobilise billions in investments in generating energy from wind, solar, biomass and geothermal sources.
"Implementing these measures will lead to the continued and significant decrease in global emissions of carbon dioxide: by 2015 estimated savings of 1.2 billion tonnes CO2 per year are anticipated," said Tritten. "Renewables 2004 is a milestone along the road towards an energy system which places equal emphasis on both climate protection and real development opportunities for the world's poor."
Germany made a special contribution to the International Action Programme. Federal Chancellor Gerhard Schröder announced before the delegates that from 2005, the German Government would provide € 500 million per year for five years, which would be used to set up a new financing facility in the Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau. This increases Germany's previous pledge, made in Johannesburg in 2002, to make available € 1 billion for measures promoting energy efficiency measures and the increased use of renewables.
"The positive results of the Conference are most encouraging: Renewable energies are accepted worldwide; both here and in developing countries they are gaining more and more supporters," said Wieczorek-Zeul. "By reducing greenhouse gas emissions through the use of renewables, we will make a significant contribution towards sustainably alleviating global poverty and protecting the climate."
However not everyone came away from Bonn as enthusiastic. According to the International Federation of Industrial Energy Consumers (IFIEC), the promotion of renewable energy will add significantly to processing costs. In addition the body, which represents major energy consumers such as food packagers and chemical processors, claims that renewable energies can only benefit the energy situation when full-scale subsidies are not required.
"The reality is that, all too often, they are required to pay high rates for inefficiently generated power," said the IFIEC. "In addition, consumers are also paying to maintain fossil-based generation capacity necessary to guarantee supply during periods when renewables cannot deliver."
For example, the IFIEC claims that financial surcharges relating to Germany's installation of more than 14,000MW of wind power capacity have added about €4.50 a megawatt hour to German electricity prices.
There is real pressure on food processors to adopt renewable energy strategies. The UK's environmental regulator has cautioned food and drink manufacturers that if they fail to comply with essential environmental legislation they risk hefty fines. Businesses also risk missing out on the growing commercial benefits of good green credentials.
But the problem for food processors is that energy consumption is still necessary right along the production line. A chip manufacturer for example needs steam power for peeling, chipping and cooking. Abiding by stringent emission regulations and achieving production cost cuts must therefore be weighed up with the ongoing need for energy.