Friday, June 21, 2024
 
 

Europe needs every clean energy tool it can get to deliver net-zero

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Remaining steadfast in its commitment to addressing climate change, the European Union is in the midst of an unprecedented transformation to meet climate and energy security goals. The need for energy autonomy and a reliable, secure energy system has never been more clear.

This won’t be easy. As of 2021, our energy system was over 70% reliant on fossil fuels. Kicking this habit and turning to 100% clean energy within three decades is no small feat, requiring mass economic investment and sweeping international consensus to build–and retrofit–the technology we need. As outlined by Carbon-Free Europe’s first-of-a-kind energy systems analysis, this will take every solution at our fingertips and then some.

The EU needs to move quickly to build out as much wind and solar as is physically possible, overcoming supply chain, permitting, and workforce constraints to more than triple today’s electric capacity to meet 2050 targets. To hit our targets, we need to accelerate the pace of construction, big time.

At the same time, everything that can be electrified must be electrified. Electrification is by far the most cost-effective way to reduce emissions, putting it front and center in any credible decarbonization plan.

Success is contingent on upgrading and expanding the grid to connect new clean energy projects to cities, industries, and homes. It took Europe 100 years to build the current roughly 1000 gigawatts of grid capacity and now we need to more than triple it in 27 years. That essentially means tripling capacity in a third of the time.

In addition to expanding the inter-regional grid, the EU will also need an extensive pipeline network to transport around 100,000 tonnes of clean hydrogen and 450,000 tonnes of captured carbon across Europe to storage and utilization sites.

Thanks to European policymakers finalizing a series of legislative acts designed to achieve 55% emissions reductions by 2030 (Fit for 55 package) and move away from Russian fossil fuels (REPowerEU Plan), the EU will have the regulatory framework to tackle the first half of this challenge. But beyond 2030 the pathway to net-zero could vary significantly depending on social, economic, and physical constraints and the availability of new technology.

The best chance of success hinges on allowing Member States to select from a diversity of carbon-free solutions to meet the unique demands of their economy and the availability of natural resources. Approaches that limit options to one group or country’s preferred technology is unserious and jeopardize the actual likelihood of meeting climate commitments.

After 2030, the deployment of a diversity of carbon-free technologies is needed to keep costs down, balance a highly-renewable grid, and provide solutions for parts of the economy that cannot be electrified. This ranges from familiar technologies like wind, solar, and existing nuclear energy, to rising stars like clean hydrogen, advanced nuclear, enhanced geothermal, long-duration storage, carbon capture and storage, and floating offshore wind.

While critics may argue that these emerging technologies are currently more expensive, it’s short-sighted to focus solely on today’s leading renewables as these other technologies enable us to bridge the gap to full decarbonization in the last decade to 2050. Although these technologies may not be the cheapest options at present, they are expected to become more cost competitive with innovation and deployment at scale. This shift will ultimately result in a significant reduction of system-wide costs by 2050.

Our position isn’t unfounded and relies on data as the key driver to action – our modeling suggests that some in the EU will reach the limit of their renewable resource potential by 2050. This means they’ll have to rely on energy imports, thus underscoring not only the importance of long-term planning but also the necessity of a technology-inclusive approach.

However, reaching this goal is a collective endeavor that requires consensus among Member States. Despite the broad popularity of this approach across Europe, tensions exist around the role of nuclear energy, making it difficult to implement the necessary solutions at the scale we need.

Let’s be clear – this isn’t a blind endorsement of nuclear energy. Rather, it’s an acknowledgment of its potential to operate alongside other clean energy technologies. This forms part of a larger, pragmatic, diversified, and reliable energy portfolio. With its ability to generate firm baseload carbon-free electricity and provide heat for hard-to-decarbonize sectors, nuclear energy can play a key role in our transition towards a more affordable, reliable, secure, and clean energy future.

But the clock is ticking. We need consensus and unity. Most importantly, we need courage from EU leaders. They must be willing to utilize every technology and policy tool available to meet climate commitments and break free from Russia’s grip on the continent by cutting off the financial support fueling their atrocities in Ukraine.

No more playing favorites. It’s time to face the abundant evidence in front of us and pursue the innovation and deployment of every clean energy tool we can get.

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Co-Founder of Carbon Free Europe

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