Clean European power system possible with no extra cost, study finds

22nd June 2022

Europe can achieve a clean, reliable and expanded power system by 2035 with a similar overall cost to current plans for a smaller and more polluting supply, new modelling has found.

The study by energy think tank Ember, published today, models the entire European electricity system, hour-by-hour and country-by-country, to find the cheapest 2050 transition pathways aligned with limiting global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

Across all least-cost pathways, wind and solar provide 70-80% of electricity generation by 2035, with solar capacity growing by up to nine times, and wind capacity quadrupling in size.

This will require an additional upfront investment of €300-750bn. However, ditching expensive fossil fuels in favour of clean electrification is forecast to save Europe an estimated €1trn by 2035, along with numerous benefits to climate, health and energy security.

Coal must be phased out by 2030 and unabated gas reduced to less than 5% of generation by 2035 to make Europe’s power system fit for the Paris Agreement, while no large fossil gas plants need to be commissioned beyond those expected by 2025.

The findings support previous research by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and International Energy Agency, and give a detailed plan for how clean power can be achieved across the EU27, UK, Norway, Switzerland and the Western Balkans by 2035.

“Scaling clean power is a win-win-win,” said Dr Chris Rosslowe, senior energy analyst at Ember. “It will save money, put Europe on track for its climate commitments and reduce its reliance on imported fossil fuels. Europe should invest now for a huge payback by 2035.”

The modelling shows how clean power systems deliver security of supply even during challenging ‘dunkelflaute’ conditions when harsh cold spells coincide with prolonged low wind and solar output.

Three key technologies emerge as the cornerstones of flexibility: electricity interconnections double and hydrogen electrolysers hit 200-400GW by 2035, supported by clean dispatchable sources that can be called upon when required, such as low-emission gases.

New nuclear capacity is not a feature of least-cost pathways, but the analysis also finds that current expansion plans across Europe do not incur significantly higher system costs.

The findings also show that, if the full potential of electrification and energy savings can be realised, Europe’s total consumption of fossil fuels would halve by 2030.

“Europe has shown it can step up its ambition in the face of the gas crisis and Putin’s fossil-fuelled war,” said Charles Moore, Ember's Europe Lead. “It is now required to keep pushing forward, to avert the climate crisis and unlock countless benefits for citizens and businesses.”

Image credit: iStock


Subscribe to IEMA's newsletters to receive timely articles, expert opinions, event announcements, and much more, directly in your inbox.

Transform articles

How much is too much?

While there is no silver bullet for tackling climate change and social injustice, there is one controversial solution: the abolition of the super-rich. Chris Seekings explains more

4th April 2024

Read more

One of the world’s most influential management thinkers, Andrew Winston sees many reasons for hope as pessimism looms large in sustainability. Huw Morris reports

4th April 2024

Read more

Alex Veitch from the British Chambers of Commerce and IEMA’s Ben Goodwin discuss with Chris Seekings how to unlock the potential of UK businesses

4th April 2024

Read more

Regulatory gaps between the EU and UK are beginning to appear, warns Neil Howe in this edition’s environmental legislation round-up

4th April 2024

Read more

Five of the latest books on the environment and sustainability

3rd April 2024

Read more

Ben Goodwin reflects on policy, practice and advocacy over the past year

2nd April 2024

Read more

In 2020, IEMA and the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA) jointly wrote and published A User Guide to Climate-Related Financial Disclosures. This has now been updated to include three key developments in the field.

2nd April 2024

Read more

Hello and welcome to another edition of Transform. I hope that you’ve had a good and productive few months so far.

28th March 2024

Read more

Media enquires

Looking for an expert to speak at an event or comment on an item in the news?

Find an expert

IEMA Cookie Notice

Clicking the ‘Accept all’ button means you are accepting analytics and third-party cookies. Our website uses necessary cookies which are required in order to make our website work. In addition to these, we use analytics and third-party cookies to optimise site functionality and give you the best possible experience. To control which cookies are set, click ‘Settings’. To learn more about cookies, how we use them on our website and how to change your cookie settings please view our cookie policy.

Manage cookie settings

Our use of cookies

You can learn more detailed information in our cookie policy.

Some cookies are essential, but non-essential cookies help us to improve the experience on our site by providing insights into how the site is being used. To maintain privacy management, this relies on cookie identifiers. Resetting or deleting your browser cookies will reset these preferences.

Essential cookies

These are cookies that are required for the operation of our website. They include, for example, cookies that enable you to log into secure areas of our website.

Analytics cookies

These cookies allow us to recognise and count the number of visitors to our website and to see how visitors move around our website when they are using it. This helps us to improve the way our website works.

Advertising cookies

These cookies allow us to tailor advertising to you based on your interests. If you do not accept these cookies, you will still see adverts, but these will be more generic.

Save and close