LONDON, June 4 (Reuters) - The European Union's three biggest member states are developing solar power, biomass and other renewable energy technologies in place of plans for offshore wind, according to data on actual versus projected deployment.
Offshore wind is at an early stage of commercialisation and is more expensive than most renewable energy, which may be contributing to a switch to alternatives to meet targets under the EU renewable energy directive.
Onshore wind is also slipping behind target in some countries such as Britain, where it has, for example, suffered from slow planning approvals.
The EU directive was drafted in 2007-2008 before the extent of the region's financial crisis was clear and when public concern about climate change was at its height.
It sets out renewable energy targets, in its annex 1, which are binding under national law. (See Chart 1)
Some EU countries are now pulling back from renewable energy support, for example by trimming subsidies or taxing wind and solar power generation, to limit public debt and consumer costs.
That may see them substitute cheaper green energy for more costly technologies such as offshore wind, as suggested by the examples of Germany, France and Britain.
Energy efficiency is an even better option, making aggregate targets easier to meet by suppressing demand.
Alternatively, member states can deploy various "cooperation mechanisms" to help them meet their targets, for example committing to import a certain quota of green power from neighbouring countries.
Chart 1: (page 31) goo.gl/abt8L
Chart 2: (page 1) goo.gl/jYTlH
To show their commitment to the 2020 targets under the renewable energy directive, all EU member states had to establish national renewable energy action plans and submit these to the European Commission by June 2010.
The plans described each country's expected trajectory for growth for each technology for each year from 2010 to 2020.
The renewable energy directive keeps member states on a tight leash, requiring them to keep to a pre-determined, gradually steepening, adoption curve ("the indicative trajectory") up to 2020, or else to explain how they would catch up.
"A Member State whose share of energy from renewable sources fell below the indicative trajectory in the immediately preceding two-year period ... shall submit an amended national renewable energy action plan to the Commission by 30 June of the following year, setting out adequate and proportionate measures to rejoin, within a reasonable timetable, the indicative trajectory," states the directive.
In other words, countries will not only be held to their 2020 targets but to their growth in the meantime.
The European Commission reviews progress towards the renewable energy targets every two years, and in March published its first progress report.
It projected that states might miss targets for particular technologies by a considerable distance, for example by as much as 70 percent in the case of offshore wind.
"In many Member States currently implemented policies risk being insufficient to trigger the required renewable energy deployment to reach the 2020 targets," the Commission review said in March.
"The financial crisis also affects these developments, since the cost of capital has risen in several Member States. Thus low cost measures that reduce administrative burdens and that increase energy efficiency are even more important policies for achieving the targets."
Europe's top two economies have deployed less offshore wind than they anticipated three years ago.
Germany and France had installed 0.3 gigawatts (GW) and zero GW respectively as of the end of last year, according to the Global Wind Energy Council. That compares with plans for 0.8 GW and 0.7 GW, respectively.
Britain is ahead of its target for installed capacity, at 2.9 GW compared with a planned 2.7 GW, but behind on power generation, illustrating under-performance of wind farms to date (another problem for the technology, besides capital and connection costs).
It had anticipated 8.97 terrawatt hours (TWh), but only achieved 7.5 TWh.
The three countries have compensated in different ways.
Germany's excess solar power last year (actual versus planned capacity) was nearly equivalent to its entire ambition for 10,000 MW of offshore wind in 2020.
It had installed a cumulative 32,440 MW of solar power as of the end of 2012, according to the Fraunhofer Institute, compared with a planned 23,783 MW.
In France, cumulative installed wind and solar PV power last year reached 7,500 MW and 3,500 MW according to the network operator RTE. That compared with targets for 8,265 MW and 1,080 MW, again showing an excess solar power.
In Britain, the signs are that biomass may have to substitute for shortfalls in both onshore and offshore wind.
The country projected some 14.2, 13.3 and 9.0 terrawatt hours (TWh) of power generation each from onshore wind, biomass and offshore wind, in 2012. Actual generation was 11.9, 15.2 and 7.5 TWh, the latest energy statistics show.
There are several ways that EU member states can cut the cost of their binding renewable energy targets.
One is to substitute cheaper technologies, where the outlook for offshore wind does not look bright.
Another is to invest not only in renewable energy but in enabling infrastructure.
For example, wider grid transmission connections help mitigate the variability of renewable power by capturing wider supply and demand, and so reduce the need for grid balancing and firing up expensive, back-up gas-fired peaking capacity.
Another is to make support regimes more efficient, where both the IEA and the European Commission have recently suggested the use of auctions over feed-in tariffs, to capture actual generation costs more closely, and so cut green subsidies.
And energy efficiency is vital to cut aggregate demand, and the required capacity to hit the required share of renewables. (Editing by James Jukwey)