Photovoltaic and wind power will become important supports for Europe to realize energy transformation
Research shows that Europe can have a clean, reliable and expanded power system by 2035 at no additional cost compared to current, more polluting energy plans.
More than 90% of Europe's electricity will come from low-emission renewable energy sources by 2035, according to a research report released by Ember, a British climate think tank. Analysts have modeled the European power system to discover the most cost-effective path to achieving climate goals.
The study was published in late June ahead of the G7 summit. G7 leaders will then discuss a goal of "major decarbonization of the power sector" by 2035, a goal they pledged to achieve when energy, climate and environment ministers gathered in Berlin, Germany, in May 2022. The target is in line with a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) that recommends that advanced economies around the world achieve a net-zero decarbonisation target for their power systems by 2050.
Ember has modeled three different paths for the European power sector: The first is an established policy path, aligned with EU national policies until 2035. The other two are the Technology-Driven Path and the System Change Path, which aim to minimize costs while maintaining compliance with the Paris Agreement climate goals. The technology-driven pathway focuses primarily on economic optimization, while the systems-change pathway sets higher-level climate goals.
To the researchers' surprise, these pathways not only confirmed that Europe could achieve a clean electricity system by 2035, but also showed that this goal can be achieved without additional costs.
"The reason for this is that the cost of generating electricity from renewable has fallen dramatically over the past 10 years," said Chris Rosslowe, lead author of the study. The study proposes a win-win situation: it puts Europe on track to net zero track, can keep costs the same and reduce reliance on fossil fuels.
Research shows that while these paths to clean energy goals require larger up-front investments, in the long run these investments are offset by the cost of reducing fossil fuel adoption. According to the research, investment in the established policy path will require 1.33 trillion euros, the technology-driven path will be 1.63 trillion euros, and the system change will be 2.08 trillion euros. By 2035, power system costs for all paths will be similar, but total system costs for clean power paths will be reduced by €530 billion to €1,010 billion.
Photovoltaic and wind power dominate the power generation mix to achieve clean energy goals. In the technology-driven path, photovoltaic power generation and wind power generation accounted for 68% of the total power generation and 78% in the system transformation path. To achieve these figures, the annual growth rate of installed photovoltaic and wind power capacity in European countries must be four times that of the past decade, requiring the installation of 1,400 GW of photovoltaic systems and 800 GW of wind power generation facilities. While only the system change pathway is designed to accommodate the phasing out of coal-fired generation facilities, both could see significant reductions in fossil fuels.
Rosslowe explained, “We see very clearly that there will be a significant phase-out of coal-fired generation for climate and cost reasons, and these paths also suggest that by 2035 there will be no more than 5% of the natural gas generation mix.”
Consider extreme weather events
To account for weather fluctuations, the model is based on three years of historical weather data. Rosslowe explained that the researchers included 2010 in the models because it was the year Europe experienced extreme temperatures. The year has had a combination of unusually cold winters and summer heat waves. Investing in grid connection, hydrogen electrolyzers and clean dispatchable energy is required to manage extreme weather and 'Dunkelf laute' periods (periods of insufficient sunlight and wind).
He said, “A key part of the solution is to scale up grid-connected interconnections to share electricity more efficiently across Europe, while scaling up the deployment of wind and photovoltaic systems. This way, when a part of Europe is experiencing Dunkelflaute In times of need, the rest of Europe can help.”
Most of the analytical activities were done prior to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. The established policy path is based on policies implemented at the end of October 2021 and therefore does not include any changes implemented after the Russia-Ukraine conflict. However, as it is now seen, several sensitivity scenarios were simulated, including one with higher fossil fuel costs. While changes in the cost of fossil fuels do change some models in the short term, they won't have a major impact in the long run, Rosslowe said.
He explained, “In the case of higher fossil fuel prices, the main impact is the balance between coal-fired power generation and gas-fired power generation in the next few years. Coal prices have risen slightly as gas prices have risen. As people are seeing now . Natural gas has proven to be relatively cheap. Because the established policy path is more reliant on gas than the clean electricity path, we may be underestimating the cost of the former.”
A real joint effort
The study, released a week before the G7 summit, includes some key implications for policymakers. Ember said that European countries should accelerate the promotion of the expansion of wind and photovoltaic power generation, ensure the security of energy supply and strengthen domestic manufacturing production.
Rosslowe said, “Policymakers need to recognize that the adoption of clean energy by 2035 is a key milestone in achieving net-zero emissions. This is because wind and photovoltaic are cheap, resource-rich, and at a time when Europe places a high priority on energy sovereignty. ”
To follow Ember's path, the permitting process for renewable energy needs to be simplified. Rosslowe said, “Industry expectations for photovoltaic suggest that the levels we discuss in the report are as high as possible. They are in line with the high end of the industry path that suggests feasible. However, for wind, meeting existing targets will is an uphill struggle, and its current target will not provide a clean power system by 2035. So it will take a real concerted effort by European countries to promote the scaling up of wind and photovoltaic in a responsible way. Because this is the key to achieving the goal of a clean power system by 2035 in Europe."