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100 per cent renewable electricity for Europe by 2050 is possible

Europe and North Africa could be powered exclusively by renewable electricity by 2050, if this is supported by a single European power market united with a similar market in North Africa.

A recent study by international energy and climate experts from PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP and researchers of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) and the European Climate Forum (ECF) has formulated the first policy roadmap towards a 2050 goal of achieving a 100 per cent renewable power sector in Europe and North Africa. 

A transformation of the power sector based on 100 per cent renewables would address energy security and supply concerns while decarbonising electricity generation and at the same time contribute to a substantial reduction in energy poverty.  Leading to cheaper business electricity.

Taking into account existing infrastructure and electricity generation capacities, and recognising the need for a cross-national power system, the proposed SuperSmart Grid would allow load and demand management for power, independent of when and where the power is generated. 

Making the most of natural resources and established weather patterns it would incorporate:-
• The vast concentrating solar potential of 
southern Europe and the arid deserts of 
North Africa 
• The hydro capability of Scandinavia and 
the European Alps 
• Onshore and offshore wind farms in the 
Baltic and North Sea 
• The continent’s ocean tidal and wave 
power 
• Biomass generation across Europe

The researchers studied the policy, markets, investments and infrastructure leadership needed to achieve the 100 per cent renewables goal in terms of financial, infrastructure and government policy milestones for policy makers and business. 

The study focused the examination on a 100 per cent renewable electricity supply to consider the market and infrastructure potential of natural resources but recognised that in addition to renewables, there are other routes to achieving a low carbon future. 

Amongst the most significant is the expansion of nuclear power and the development of carbon capture and storage (CCS) for the burning of fossil fuels. 

Gus Schellekens, director, sustainability and climate change, for PwC said: “Europe and other parts of the world are arriving at a crossroads where we have the choice and ability to achieve renewable power at scale. 

“Opportunities to use clean and affordable natural sources of electricity have been flirted with over the past 150 years. This study lays out a clear framework of how this time could be different.”

Currently, the European power system is dominated by fossil fuel (55 per cent) and nuclear (30 per cent) electricity. Some 15 per cent of Europe’s power supply is from renewable electricity dominated by old hydro power stations. 

Expansion of renewable energy including onshore wind and biomass has been modest at best to date. Despite this, the technological capability for developing renewable forms of power generation is already in place, or emerging and envisaged, and the economics of the key technologies is improving, albeit in a difficult financing environment. 

A renewables powered Europe would change the landscape for consumers and business. Electro-mobility could be introduced on a mass scale, leading to day-to-day transport of people and goods without the CO2 penalty associated with fossil fuel. 

In North African countries, the provision of reliable and potentially unlimited solar electricity could provide the basis for substantial social and economic development across the region. 

By 2050, with renewable technologies deployed at scale across Europe and North Africa, significant cost reductions would make the renewable power sector a major employer of skilled workers in both Europe and North Africa, and cost competitive, providing affordable electricity across the region. 

Developing a strong cooperation for large scale renewables will also decrease dependency from energy imports and develop strong interdependencies between Europe and its neighbours.

Richard Gledhill, who is partner responsible for sustainability and climate change at PwC said: “Decarbonising the power sector to meet climate change goals is likely to require big increases in renewables and nuclear, as well as the deployment of carbon capture and storage at commercial scale. 

“What the study demonstrates is the reality of the game-changing policy and business decisions we will have to make, whatever our energy mix. But it also serves to debunk some of the conventional criticisms of large scale renewables. 

“It is a challenging vision, but it shows how geographic and technological diversification can help address cost and security of supply concerns. Integration with North Africa would unlock allow Europe to huge additional solar capacity. 

“This would obviously require a sustained partnership and the development of closely linked energy policies going forward, but it could pay big dividends in terms of regional development, sustainability and security.”

Across Europe there have been significant differences in renewables growth to date. Denmark and Germany, show strong growth rates (60 per cent and 80 per cent renewable energy growth since 2000). 

France and Austria have decreasing shares of renewables due to increasing electricity demand and stagnating renewable capacities. 

Concentrated solar power, currently operating at a quarter of the capacity of wind power, could potentially be the lowest cost technology available for Europe. 

If its installation capacity was doubled, cost reductions would be 65 per cent over time relative to other technologies, the study finds. 

Wind capacity has been growing at an average rate of 25 per cent over the last 15 years. And a report released in March by the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change found that harnessing the full potential of marine energy could provide enough power for up to 15 million homes and save up to 70million tonnes of C02 by 2050. 

While European power sector emissions decreased during the 1990s, they have subsequently increased again and are today only 5 per cent lower than in 1990. 

About 50 per cent of Europe’s current energy demand is met with imported fuels and there are projections that this could increase to 70 per cent in the coming decades.

Almost all European and North African countries are strongly dependent on imported fuels for their power generation, such as gas, coal and uranium. Only Poland, Czech Republic, Algeria and Libya are self-sufficient in fuels for the electricity sector.

 Download the report at http://www.pwc.co.uk/eng/publications/100_percent_renewable_electricity.html