Think of the Netherlands and a windmill is likely to come to mind (along with things like clogs and cheese). The small country has the fourth-largest wind-energy capacity in Europe and the seventh-largest in the world, according to the European Commission.

But the Netherlands is in danger of missing the European Union target of getting 20 percent of its total energy consumption from renewable sources by 2020, said Wim Sinke, chairman of a working group for the European Photovoltaic Technology Platform, at a conference this week.

Speaking at a panel at the IEEE Photovoltaic Specialists Conference's PV Velocity Forum in San Diego, Sinke called the goal "ambitious" for the Netherlands and said the country is unlikely to meet it unless it makes major changes to its government policies.Sinke, who heads the European Photovoltaic Technology Platform's Working Group on Science, Technology and Applications and is a senior staff member at the Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands, attributed his country's challenges to the fact that it is a small nation with a high population density and limited renewable-energy resources in the short term.

"Current policies indicate we may not get there - we need changes that have to be made at the political level," Sinke said. The specific changes he stressed were increasing the ambition behind Dutch policies as well as the policies' limits so that the required capacity volumes can be reached.
Another big reason the Netherlands is falling behind is the temporary removal of its feed-in tariffs for wind and solar energy, he said.

The tariffs, which mirrored the highly successful feed-in tariff program in Germany, paid renewable-energy producers a guaranteed rate for the electricity delivered to the grid.

The country withdrew its wind-energy tariffs for one and half years, primarily because the government felt 2010 targets would be reached. It withdrew its solar-energy tariffs for four to five years. "The government was afraid that budgets would be heavily overspent," Sinke said.

The main motive behind removing the tariffs was to save money, he said.In the Netherlands, the incentives are funded by the government, whereas Germany has funded its tariff by adding a fee to utility charges, which is borne by all consumers.

But things are changing. With the ambitious 2020 targets looming, the Netherlands has reinstated the feed-in tariffs for both wind and solar.

"I think the sense of urgency is growing across Europe and I am optimistic (that the policy changes will happen)," Sinke said. "We need change - that is clear. It may take more than a year, but policy changes will come."

He expects photovoltaic technology to play a modest role in helping the Netherlands reach its 20-percent goal, with biomass and wind making up the bulk of the renewable energy, in contrast to southern Europe, where solar will play a large role. The EU's Strategic Research Agenda has set a goal of reaching grid parity - or prices competitive with conventional electricity - in southern Europe by 2015, and in most other parts of Europe by 2020. To reach this goal, the SRA is aiming for solar panels that can convert an average of 20 percent of the sunlight that hits them into electricity.

Overall, it will take a large variety of incentives to boost solar and other renewable energy throughout the European Union and the world, Sinke said.

"There will be great diversity in the incentives that drive PV technology across different countries," he said. "We will not see a uniform approach for renewable energy across the EU, but in the end, it will be good to have greater cohesion in the level of ambition."

Of course, some countries - such as Germany, the top solar market - will have no problem meeting the 20-percent renewable-energy target.

"Germany has announced that they will go beyond 20 percent by 2020," Sinke said. "But for my own country (the Netherlands), it is considered ambitious. Clearly there are countries that want to go further than 20 percent and others who think that it is too much."

-- Editor Jennifer Kho contributed to this story.