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Greenhouse gas culprits spend on coal subsidies

Energy
Berlin - The 10 European countries with the highest rates of climate-changing emissions from energy use are spending about e6.3 billion (R93.6 billion) a year on coal subsidies, money that could instead be invested in the energy technologies of the future, researchers said.

Those countries produce 84 percent of the European Union’s energy-related greenhouse gas emissions, with Germany and Poland the largest emitters.

“Governments have often used the energy transition, including a shift to renewables, as a justification for extending and introducing new subsidies to coal,” the researchers said in a report published yesterday.

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Xinhua/Li Ga

Part of the reasoning is that “when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine, you need power on stand-by to provide the grid”, said Shelagh Whitley, a co-author of the report and head of the climate and energy programme at the London-based Overseas Development Institute.

The countries studied were Britain, France, Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Italy, Hungary, Netherlands, Poland and Spain.

“Instead of governments supporting technologies which are part of the future energy system ... they’re subsidising centuries-old technology,” Whitley said.

Read also: Coal is the way forward for Eskom

A better use of the funds could be investment in new technologies such as batteries to store renewable power, as well as improvements in energy efficiency and installing demand systems in factories and businesses that can help them power up or power down in times of high demand or low supply.

“We know that renewables are more intermittent,” Whitley told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. But “we need an [electricity] grid and systems within people’s homes and businesses that can manage that - and the technology exists”.

Smart technologies can be installed that allow factories, for example, to turn down their refrigeration units when the energy grid has less capacity - and get paid for that in the same way people are paid to supply energy from their solar panels, she said. 

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