Europe could be supplied by 100pc renewable energy by 2050 – PwC study

5 Nov 2010

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Europe and North Africa have the potential to 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 new study suggests.

The study, 100% Renewable Electricity: A Roadmap to 2050 for Europe and North Africa, has been compiled by international energy and climate experts from PwC in collaboration with researchers from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis and the European Climate Forum.

It’s being launched in Ireland today at Sustainability Energy Authority of Ireland’s Pathways to 2050: International Conference taking place at the Dublin Convention Centre.

Currently, the European power system is dominated by fossil fuel (55pc) and nuclear (30pc) electricity, while 15pc of its power supply is from renewable electricity, which comes largely from old hydro power stations.

According to the report, a transformation of the power sector based on 100pc renewables would address energy security and supply concerns while decarbonising electricity generation and at the same time contributing to a substantial reduction in energy poverty.

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

SuperSmart Grid

Looking at the need for a cross-national power system, the PwC report argues that the proposed SuperSmart Grid would allow load and demand management for power, independent of when and where the power is generated. It says the SuperSmart Grid would incorporate:

  • The substantial 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 – in particular in Ireland, Scotland, France and Portugal
  • Biomass generation across Europe.

Concentrated solar power

According to the study, concentrated solar power, which currently operates at a quarter of the capacity of wind power, could potentially be the lowest-cost technology available for Europe.

It suggests that if the installation capacity of concentrated solar power was doubled, cost reductions would be 65pc over time relative to other technologies.

Clean power opportunities

Speaking in advance of his Dublin presentation on the report, Gus Schellekens, director, PwC’s Sustainability and Climate Change Practice, 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. Expansion of renewable energy, including onshore wind and biomass, has been modest, at best, to date."

Commenting on the report, Bartley O’Connor, senior manager, PwC’s Sustainability and Climate Change Practice in Dublin, said: “The twin challenges of climate change and energy security require an ambitious vision and collaboration across borders and boundaries that we have not previously envisaged.

“With our abundant resources, the opportunity exists for Ireland to become a player in the emerging renewable energy market in Europe over the next 20 years. While there are many challenges to be overcome, we now need to plan for the role we can play in moving towards this 100pc renewable energy target by 2050.”

Renewable energy horizon

Some of the proposals in the road map include:

  • The development of Europe-wide business cases by 2015 for renewables and grid infrastructure projects at a European level that include long-term renewable (REN) and climate targets
  • The build-up of significant renewable energy generation capacity by 2015 to harvest wind and solar potentials
  • Phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies by 2020 and the development of a strategic timeline for phasing out financial support for renewable technologies
  • The setting up of REN targets for North Africa by 2020
  • The creation of a single European power market by 2020
  • Strategic decommissioning of fossil fuel plants in the EU and North Africa beginning in 2030, leading to their wholesale replacement by large-scale renewable power generation by 2040.

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Carmel was a long-time reporter with Siliconrepublic.com

editorial@siliconrepublic.com