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Europe could have 100% renewable energy by 2050: study

Europe and North Africa could obtain all of their electricity from renewable energy by 2050, if the concept is supported by a single European power market united with a similar market in North Africa.

A transformation of the power sector based on 100% renewable energy would address energy security and supply concerns, while decarbonising electricity generation and, at the same time, contributing to a substantial reduction in energy poverty, concludes ‘100% Renewable Electricity - A roadmap to 2050 for Europe and North Africa.’

The study was conducted by the consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) with researchers at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis and the European Climate Forum.

Taking into account existing infrastructure and electricity generation capacities, and recognising the need for a cross-national power system, the proposed ‘SuperSmart Grid’ would allow load and demand management for power, independent of when and where the power is generated.

System would incorporate solar energy resources

It would make the most of natural resources and established weather patterns by incorporating the “vast concentrating solar potential of southern Europe and the arid deserts of North Africa” with onshore and offshore wind farms in the Baltic and North Sea. It would also rely on the hydro capability of Scandinavia and the European alps, the continent’s ocean tidal and wave power, and biomass generation across Europe.

“Europe and other parts of the world are arriving at a crossroads where we have the choice and ability to achieve renewable power at scale,” explains Gus Schellekens of PWC. “Opportunities to use clean and affordable natural sources of electricity have been flirted with over the past 150 years; this study lays out a clear framework of how this time could be different.”

Across Europe, there have been significant differences in renewables growth to date, it notes. Denmark and Germany show strong growth rates (60% and 80% respectively of growth in renewable energy since 2000), while France and Austria have decreasing shares of renewables due to increasing electricity demand and stagnating renewable capacities.

The researchers studied the policy, markets, investments and infrastructure leadership that is needed to achieve a goal of 100% renewable energy in terms of financial, infrastructure and government policy milestones for policy makers and business.

Study examines 100% from solar and other resources

The study focused on a 100% renewable electricity supply to consider the market and infrastructure potential of natural resources but recognised that, in addition to renewables, there are other routes to achieve a low-carbon future. Among the most significant are the expansion of nuclear power and the development of carbon capture and storage (CCS) for the burning of fossil fuels.

Currently, the European grid is dominated by fossil fuel (55%) and nuclear (30%), but 15% of the continent’s electricity is generated from renewable energy dominated by old hydropower stations. “Expansion of renewable energy, including onshore wind and biomass, has been modest at best to date,” it adds.

Despite this, the technological capability for developing renewable power is already in place, or emerging and envisaged, and the economics of the key technologies is improving despite the difficult financing environment, it adds. “A renewables-powered Europe would change the landscape for consumers and business” and, by 2050, “with renewable technologies deployed at scale across Europe and North Africa, significant cost reductions would make the renewable power sector a major employer of skilled workers in both Europe and North Africa, and cost competitive, providing affordable electricity across the region.”

Assumes build-up of renewable energy by 2015

The policy road map assumes a build-up of significant renewable energy generation capacity by 2015 to harvest wind and solar potentials, and the phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies by 2020. There would be strategic decommissioning of fossil fuel plants in Europe and North Africa starting in 2030, leading to their wholesale replacement by large-scale renewable power generation by 2040.

Concentrated Solar Power, currently operating at one quarter of the capacity of wind power, “could potentially be the lowest cost technology available for Europe,” the report notes. “If its installation capacity was doubled, cost reductions would be 65% over time relative to other technologies.”

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Bioenergy  •  Energy infrastructure  •  Other marine energy and hydropower  •  Photovoltaics (PV)  •  Policy, investment and markets  •  Solar electricity  •  Wave and tidal energy  •  Wind power