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

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