Thursday, April 15, 2010

'Roadmap 2050'

The European Union continues to display the kind of leadership on climate change that I hope the U.S. will quickly emulate. We can't afford business or politics as usual if we are serious about avoiding the most serious crisis humanity has ever faced.

Sometimes setting the goal is half the battle.(GW)

EU shown 2050 path to renewables-based economy

April 14, 2010

Europe could meet at least 80% of its energy needs from renewables by 2050 without paying more for electricity than it would by continuing with current fossil-fuel based infrastructure, according to a new report by the European Climate Foundation (ECF).


The EU has set itself a legally binding goal to reduce its emissions by 20% from 1990 levels by 2020. Moreover, it has pledged to raise this to 30% if other countries make comparable commitments.

The EU agreed a new renewable energies directive in December 2008, which turns into law its binding target to source 20% of the bloc’s energy from renewable sources by 2020.

In October 2009, EU leaders endorsed a long-term target of reducing collective developed country emissions by 80-95% by 2050 compared to 1990 levels (EurActiv 30/10/09). This is in line with the recommendations of the UN's scientific arm - the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - for preventing catastrophic changes to the Earth's climate.

The 'Roadmap 2050' report, published on 13 April, lays down pathways for decarbonising the EU's power sector in order to cut greenhouse gases by at least 80% by 2050.

It assessed the implications of scenarios where 40%, 60% and 80% of Europe's energy comes from renewable sources, complemented with nuclear and conventional power plants equipped with carbon capture and storage (CCS) facilities.

The study concluded that regardless of the renewables scenario, the future cost of electricity would not be more expensive in 2050 than under fossil fuel-based generation. Moreover, decarbonisation would be possible with technologies that are already available and domestic sources of renewable energy, including wind, solar, biomass and geothermal, it added.

The roadmap is the most comprehensive analysis to date on the cost of shifting to low-carbon power generation. It is based on economic, policy and technical analyses by leading consultancies and bodies, including McKinsey and Imperial College London, and has been prepared in consultation with major industrial players and NGOs.

The ECF also assessed the technical and economic feasibility of a 100% renewables scenario, factoring in additional help from solar power in North Africa and enhanced geothermal power as a breakthrough technology. While the reliability of supply was judged to be the same as under scenarios involving more modest shares of renewables, the cost of electricity is less certain, although it "does not appear to be dramatically more expensive," the report concluded.

Return on investments

The shift will require massive investment in the next 40 years to build low-carbon generation, transmission and back-up capacities. Crucially, this would require building a European supergrid in order to balance demand and supply across different parts of the continent, the study points out.

Around 52 billion euros, or 2.5% of total EU spending, would have to be redirected to pay for the 80% renewables scenario, according to the study.

Electricity prices would be about 10-15% higher under the low-carbon scenarios than they would be under a carbon-intensive power infrastructure, but the difference would be compensated for by carbon prices of €20-€30 per tonne, the study shows, arguing that the total impact on GDP would be negligible.

In the long term, the cost to the economy of a low-carbon shift would actually be lower, as shifting away from oil and gas as well as increased energy efficiency would reduce the cost of energy per unit of gross domestic product, reducing Europe's energy bill, the paper forecasts.

"The energy intensity of the economy will start to fall quite early, probably around 2020," said Tom Brookes, head of the Energy Strategy Centre at the European Climate Foundation.

However, action will need to begin within the next five years as much of the infrastructure investment will have to be made in the early years, the foundation said.

"Whichever direction you want to go, you probably need to start now," said Brookes. "Delays only make things much more expensive."

Contributing to EU strategy

The report comes as the European Commission is preparing its own paper on pathways to a low-carbon economy by 2050.

EU Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger, speaking at the launch of the new report, said the European Commission would launch a broad consultation in June in the hope of presenting the strategy in early 2011. He added that this would coincide with the new Energy Action Plan.

The Commission is also set to present a comprehensive package addressing energy infrastructure in November, with a view to improving interconnections and promoting smart grids to improve efficiency and help connect renewables to the grid.

The European Climate Foundation urged the EU to review its budget allocation to allow for more investment in renewables, CCS, energy efficiency and network infrastructure.


EU Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger congratulated the European Climate Foundation on producing the most detailed modelling of the European energy grid that has been made so far.

"This work will be of great use in preparing our infrastructure package for later this year," he said.

Pedro Marín Uribe, Spanish state secretary for energy, pointed out that a significant portion of the future renewable energy mix would be intermittent, requiring substantial regulatory changes as well as investment of capital into managing the electricity system.

"This type of manageability is very difficult to tackle in small systems, but as larger systems are considered, this difficulty is reduced thanks to the diversification of technologies, and geographical weather as well as climate conditions," he said.

"Therefore the energy model of the future cannot be based, like in the current one, on self-sufficient, national systems with some poor interconnections with limited capacity," he added, saying that a move to an electricity system with a European dimension is inevitable.

The European Renewable Energy Council (EREC) welcomed the 'Roadmap 2050' study outlining the crucial role of renewable energies in the shift to a low-carbon economy. But it regretted that the 100% scenario was not fully explored and argued that it ignored key technologies like ocean energy and enhanced geothermal systems.

"This study shows clearly that the cost of delivering reliable, decarbonised power by 2050 is roughly the same across a wide range of potential technology and resource choices – which underlines the fact that deploying renewable energy technologies is not more expensive, and even rather cheaper than conventional sources when taking all costs into account – social and environmental benefits, such as avoided fossil fuel or CO2 cost," said EREC President Arthouros Zervos.

WWF said the report support its vision of 100% renewable power for Europe by 2050 by showing that it would be only 5-10% more expensive than other low-carbon pathways considered in more detail in the study.

"The EU must now get to work, planning its long-term energy strategy based on 100% renewable power. This will be good for the climate, phase out risks of nuclear power and fuel import dependency, guarantee power supply, and would provide the most cost-effective and acceptable sustainable energy pathway for Europe," said Stephan Singer, director of global energy policy at WWF.

Next Steps

  • Nov. 2010: Commission expected to present energy infrastructure package.
  • Early 2011: Commission to present its 2050 roadmap.


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