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Climate neutrality with 100% renewable energy

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SolarPower Europe and LUT University have released a report that models a 100 percent renewables scenario for Europe to reach climate neutrality before 2050. 

The energy transition across Europe is explored in the modelling of three distinct scenarios:

  • Laggard scenario: A slower energy transition up to 2050 results in only in a renewable energy share of 62 percent and approximately a 90 percent reduction in GHG emissions by 2050, missing the EC’s climate neutrality and Paris agreement targets.
  • Moderate scenario: A medium pace energy transition towards 100 percent renewables by 2050, meeting the EC’s climate neutrality vision with zero GHG emissions and the 2°C Paris agreement target.
  • Leadership scenario: A rapid energy transition in the next two decades resulting in 100 percent renewables and zero GHG emissions in the energy system by 2040, achieving the ambitious 1.5°C Paris agreement target.

A 100 percent renewable energy system enables the EU to become climate neutral before 2050, complying with the ambitious 1.5°C Paris Agreement target, and without resorting to carbon sinks. This Leadership scenario will also trigger the sharpest decline in GHG emissions, down to zero in 2040.

Aristotelis Chantavas, president of SolarPower Europe

Due to its cost competitiveness, solar PV will become the dominant source of electricity generation across the three scenarios, as it provides the largest capacities over the course of the transition, reaching 4.7 – 8.8 TW in 2050. In the laggard scenario solar will reach at least 48 percent and 63 percent in the leadership scenario.

Solar power is set to generate more than 60 percent of European electricity by 2050. But this must be coupled with a high rate of electrification and sectoral integration, which is essential to achieving a 100 percent renewable and integrated energy system. Electrolysers for hydrogen production are also a crucial technology for this scenario, as from 2030 onwards, renewable hydrogen will contribute to the full decarbonisation of the heat and transport sectors, becoming Europe’s second key energy carrier.

Michael Schmela, executive advisor and head of market intelligence at SolarPower Europe.

By 2050, the other power pillar of the energy transition, wind energy, will, depending on the scenario, account for 28–33 percent of generation shares, and 1.1–1.9 TW of capacity.

Electric heating will take over by 2050, reaching 62–68 percent in all scenarios. Renewable-based electric heating (direct) and heat pumps (indirect) will form the majority of heat generating capacities by 2050.

Due to the fact that its responsible for almost a quarter of European GHG emission, transport shows the lowest renewable energy shares compared to its peers. In 2020 only 5 percent of energy needed for transport is provided by renewables.

On the other hand, in 2050 the aviation and marine sectors will heavily rely on renewable fuels in two 100 percent renewable scenarios, resulting in nearly two-thirds of final energy demand in that sector along with exports, while the Laggard scenario will still be sourcing over a quarter of its energy needs from fossil fuels.

Storage will play a critical role in the transition by providing stability and flexibility, and reducing curtailment to an economic minimum.

Storage technologies are an indispensable part of the energy transition, however, a highly integrated approach with full sector coupling and high electrification rates will deliver the most efficient and cost-effective energy system.

Batteries would provide the bulk storage needs, with shares reaching 67 – 70 percent depending on the scenario.

A 100 percent renewable energy system in Europe is absolutely possible from a technical perspective. It is also the most affordable and safest option to achieving climate neutrality in Europe by 2050. We have the clean energy technologies already, and now it is about developing the right policies to ramp up deployment. If we act now, we can limit climate change and provide a brighter future to the next generation.

Dr Christian Breyer, professor of solar economy at LUT University
Nedim Husomanovic

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