Europe must double spending on energy infrastructure by 2025 and ‘aggressively’ step up energy-efficiency if it is to meet a target to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by the middle of the century, according to the European Climate Foundation (ECF), a group promoting action on climate change in Europe.
The EU will be unable to reduce emissions by 80%-95% by 2050 (compared to 1990 levels) – a goal endorsed by EU leaders last year – without fast action to take fossil fuels out of the electricity supply in the next 10-15 years. This is the conclusion of a report the group published today (13 April).
It appears as the European Commission studies how to ‘decarbonise’ the power sector. In his bid for re-election as Commission president, José Manuel Barroso, promised that decarbonising Europe’s electricity supply and transport system would be a priority for the 2010-14 Commission.
Two European commissioners deeply involved in this project, Connie Hedegaard, climate action, and Günther Oettinger, energy, will attend (separately) the launch event of the ECF report in Brussels (13 April).
The researchers conclude that spending on energy infrastructure will have rise from €28 billion in 2005 to an annual spend of between €58bn-€71bn by 2025, depending on the energy mix chosen.
They are also calling for more “aggressive” action to increase energy-efficiency, as well as an obligation at EU level on governments to invest in power lines and grid, and a review of the Union budget to assess whether low-carbon technologies are adequately funded.
They claim that Europe’s electricity supply can be decarbonised with existing technologies, such as solar, wind or biothermal, or technologies close to market readiness, such as carbon capture and storage. The biggest stumbling blocks are political rather than technical, they argue. Public opposition to new overhead power lines, wind farms, nuclear plants and carbon storage is “likely” to drive up costs or delay implementation, the report says.
The report spells out in detail exactly what the shift from coal, oil and gas to renewables and nuclear would mean for Europe’s energy system:
●Europe would need 5,000 square kilometres of solar panels by 2050, covering roughly one thousandth of the territory of the Union. Around 100,000 wind turbines would need to be installed or replaced in the next 40 years, including some in difficult-to-access offshore waters.
● A greener power supply would make electric cars a more environmentally-attractive option, leading to 200 million electric or fuel-cell cars coming onto European roads between 2010-50.
●Cross-regional transmission of electricity would need to triple by 2050 to allow member states rich in low-carbon energy to export more of it. The biggest increase in grid capacity would be required across the Franco-Spanish border to allow sunny, wind-rich Spain to send renewable energy northwards.
● A smaller role for renewables would create a bigger role for nuclear power. If the EU was on a path to get 40% of its energy from renewables by 2050, over 100 nuclear power plants would need to go into construction before 2040, in order to decarbonise electricity supply.
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The ECF researchers tested different scenarios where Europe gets 40%, 60%, 80% or 100% of its energy from renewables by 2050. Under the ECF models, average annual spending would begin to decline again after 2040. Average spending on new infrastructure would be between €43bn – €57bn over the entire 2010-2050 period.
The study also highlighted that Europe’s emissions trading scheme (ETS), which covers around half of Europe’s emissions, is not enough on its own to provide incentives for low-carbon investment.
“The ETS is not going to deliver the necessary level of energy efficiency savings we need or to make the necessary infrastructure investments,” said Tom Brookes of ECF.
He described decarbonising Europe’s electricity system as “a regulatory challenge”, because companies needed to have a guaranteed market for their investments in renewable energy.