INTERVIEW-EU renewables targets demand radical change-Vestas

LONDON Wed Feb 27, 2008 5:51pm GMT

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LONDON Feb 27 (Reuters) - Endless debate over climate change and ways of dealing with it means Europe will miss its carbon cutting without a radical change in approach, the chief executive of the world's largest wind turbine manufacturer said on Wednesday.

The European Commission's plan to get a fifth of all energy from renewable sources by 2020 is welcome, Vestas Wind Systems CEO Ditlev Engel said in an interview. But the goal will be missed if politicians continue to argue over how to cut emissions of the main gas causing the earth to heat up.

"If we really think that global warming is serious...If we really think its necessary that we change our energy mix, then if we keep doing it in the way that we have done in the past with the fossil fuel industry then we will go nowhere," he said.

"This is not because the fault of the technology. This is because we were too slow to act."

Planning problems and public opposition to wind farms in Britain in particular have severely limited the expansion of renewable energy, while years of debate about how to make cheaper but dirtier fuels like coal less attractive to generators have limited investment in clean technologies.

But Engels believes the energy sector will need to emulate the rapid development of the information technology companies to get the job done quickly enough.

"If this is going to happen from a political, industrial and from a people perception perspective, we need to understand that the speed with which we need to execute it has to be the mind sets of the Googles and the Microsofts... How much have we moved in the IT era in such a short time?"he said.

"Are we looking at this as a threat to our lifestyle because we have to give up fossil fuels? Or do we see this as an opportunity for new types of energies and at the same time create new jobs, companies and competencies while moving to a new level of energy...If we can dream it we can do it."

Engels, whose Danish company reported a 120 percent rise in 2007 operating profit on Wednesday, said the EC target annouced earlier this year was a "huge task" but that it could end up much less ambitious before it is made law.

"We are delighted with the proposal but it's not verified yet. What I fear is that from now until the end of the year all 27 member states will try to renegotiate what they need to do," he said.

Many environmentalists argue that allowing investment in new nuclear power plants, which also emit almost no carbon, could threaten the rapid development of renewable power by competing for investment.

But Engels said EC targets for renewables should help ensure investment in clean technologies regardless of how many nuclear plants are built in the next decade.

"I don't think this is an either or, because we need all sorts of energy," he said. (Reporting by Daniel Fineren, editing by William Hardy)