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Can Obama reinvigorate Europe’s green dream?

The relief in the air last Wednesday was palpable. I think its fair to say that Barack Obama's election as President had been warmly anticipated in Europe. And whilst Europe's leaders might have struggled to remain impartial, its press – in the case of French TV news coverage, discretely – was largely pro-Obama.

There was, however, one European industrial sector that would have been forgiven for whooping with joy at an Obama victory – renewables. Battered earlier this year by among others, France and Germany's call to ease European climate goals, the last thing it needed was yet another US Government in denial of climate change.

Instead, the new president pledged a wide-ranging renewable energy support scheme as part of his election campaign, clearly taking a lead from Europe's example.
His plans include ensuring that 10 per cent of the US' electricity comes from renewable sources by 2012, and 25 per cent by 2025. Meanwhile, he plans to create five million new jobs by investing $150 billion over the next ten years to catalyse a private clean energy industry, and wants to put 1 million hybrid cars on US roads by 2015.

It's expected that President Obama will announce a goal of reducing US greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and then cutting them by 80 per cent by 2050. This would match Britain's ambitious 80 per cent target by 2050, which itself is 20 per cent above Europe's emissions slashing goal by the same date.

These are going to be tough goals to meet, but on this side of the Atlantic, there's proof that it can be done. Since 1997, the European Union has been working to a target of 12 per cent renewable energy by 2010. Germany has managed to increase the energy share from renewables of approximately 11.5 per cent of total electricity consumption in 2006, to approximately 14 per cent in 2007. Meanwhile, it already employed an estimated 250,000 people in its renewables industry in 2007, according to one German consultancy.

In 2000, the UK Government set the target that 10 per cent of its electricity supply should come from renewable energy by 2010, and in 2006 announced it wanted to double that level by 2020. In 2007, 5 per cent of the UK's electricity supply came from renewable sources.

Obama's commitment to renewables may be just in time to give a much-needed psychological boost to Europe's long-held clean energy aspirations, if not necessarily a financial one. Meanwhile, the combination of Obama's green policies and the realities of 'credit crunch' America will undoubtedly mean that energy saving is high up the agenda – good news for 'analog – the enabler,' as National Semiconductor's CEO Brian Halla pointed out this week.

So while the global economy reels from the hangover of the credit crunch, the immediate outlook for a few sectors maybe somewhat brighter this side of the US election, and from a previously unexpected direction.

Donning the green mantle

ESC panel: Does ‘green design’ matter?

National Semi’s Halla goes ‘Green’

CEO shines a light on energy savings with LEDs

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