3 May 2010, 9:00 PM
Two reports from European energy thinktanks suggest that the EU could be powered by largely low carbon and renewable sources in forty years time. A report by the European Renewable Energy Council explains how the European Union could switch to a 100% renewable energy supply for electricity, heating and cooling and transport by 2050, and the European Climate Foundation (ECF), in collaboration with other experts including McKinsey, Imperial College London and Oxford Economics, says that cost-effective low- or zero-carbon power is feasible without relying on future technology breakthroughs.
The EREC report, Re-thinking 2050, launched earlier this week in the European Parliament examines how the EU's carbon emissions could be cut by more than 90% by switching to 100% renewables, and provides a roadmap for achieving this with the different available technologies. The report concludes that the economic and social costs of achieving the switch significantly outweigh the investment involved.
Renewable electricity, particularly from wind and PV is expected to be the highest contributor to achieving the target, with an increase from 10% renewables in 2020 to 41% by 2050 predicted by EREC. Heating and cooling will continue to be the biggest sector in terms of final energy demand, but use of renewables in this sector could increase from 21% in 2020 to 45% in 2050 according to the report.
Transport however, remains a challenge, though even here significant shifts from 3% renewables in 2020 to around 10% in 2050 are feasible, claims EREC.
The European Climate Foundation (ECF) report, Roadmap 2050: a practical guide to a prosperous, low-carbon Europe, claims that an energy supply for Europe based largely on renewables would not suffer from reliability issues and would have little impact on the cost of producing electricity over the next 40 years.
Many of the widely held assumptions about low- or zero-carbon energy supply, such as high cost and intermittency, are outdated, says the report. Low- or zero-carbon energy supplies may require higher capital investment, for example, but have lower long-term operating costs. The report looks at a range of scenarios with varying levels of renewables, with nuclear and fossil fuel power stations fitted with carbon capture and storage technology making up the remainder.
All the scenarios are possible, says the report, but higher levels of renewables will rely the UK and other EU member states instigating energy efficiency measures to reduce demand and supporting the development of a European electricity 'supergrid'. There also has to be a major investment drive for low-carbon technologies and the phasing out of high-carbon options, of course, but the potential benefits massively outweigh the challenges, the report concludes.