The European Commission has presented a report on the first three years of the Community's ALTENER programme for the promotion of renewable energy sources in the European Union. The report covers the period from September 1993 to September 1996. The purpose of the ALTENER programme is to promote renewable energy sources in the Community. The programme, which covers a five-year period (1993-1997), was given an indicative budget of ECU 40 million. By the end of the programme, the budget will be likely to total ECU 44 million, including the additional funding made available due to the enlargement of the Community, on 1 January 1995, and to the extension of the programme to the EEA. In the period 1993-1996, the Community contributed over ECU 38 million to activities under the ALTENER programme. Adding in other contributions, the total expenditure for ALTENER activities in this period amounted to approximately ECU 74 million. The programme covers four main categories of actions: - Studies, market strategies and technical evaluations; - Measures to support Member States' initiatives to extend or create infrastructures (including training and information activities); - Measures to help create an information network to promote better coordination between national, Community and international activities; - Studies, evaluations and other measures to assess the technical feasibility and advantages for both the economy and the environment of the industrial exploitation of biomass for energy purposes. A total of 18 major studies were funded under ALTENER in the period covered by the report. By final energy, six studies relate to electricity (hydro, wind and photovoltaics), four to thermal (solar thermal and geothermal), and three to biomass. Five general studies concern the potential and development of renewable energy sources. Standards development is a very relevant part of renewable energy promotion. With respect to the standards selected for development by ALTENER, it was decided to concentrate on equipment related to solar thermal and wind energy. In addition, CEN/CENELEC was, in 1996, asked to prepare standards for photovoltaics and for biodiesel. Among the four main elements of the programme, the creation and extension of an infrastructure in the Member States (pilot projects) received the majority of funding (+/- 68%). A total of 278 projects were funded covering primarily training and information activities and sectoral actions. With regard to information and dissemination activities, ALTENER contracted with the EnR Network, in March 1994, to provide an information network for the activities of the programme. In collaboration with EnR, the programme has supported a wide variety of information dissemination activities, including events, publications and the development of a database containing information on ALTENER activities. In addition, three separate networks were set up involving existing national biomass centres. The networks covered the three main areas of: agriculture and forestry biomass, liquid biofuels, energy from waste. The general objectives for all of the networks were identified as: exchange and sharing of knowledge; promotion of cooperation and coordination of national biomass centre activities; and identification and promotion of business opportunities. Overall, the report concludes that ALTENER has played an important role in raising awareness about the role of renewable sources of energy in the Community. In particular, the information activities carried out under the programme have made a significant contribution to this development, as has the network approach which is an underlying feature of many of the activities. The reports and studies undertaken within the programme provide an important information base for the development of an overall renewable energy strategy for the EU. This task has now been initiated with the publication of the Commission's recent Green Paper "Energy for the Future: Renewable sources of energy - Towards a Community strategy". ALTENER has, in this way, contributed to filling the gap between research and commercial application of renewable sources of energy. The Commission's report does not constitute an evaluation of the programme as a full evaluation can only be carried out once the programme has been completed. It does, however, coincide with the launching of the proposal for a renewal of the programme, and some preliminary conclusions are drawn which can provide a useful input to the decision-making process for ALTENER II.