The future of renewables in Europe – EURACTIV.com
To achieve an affordable and clean energy future, Europe must double down on its renewable energy efforts, writes Sushil Purohit.
Sushil Purohit is the Chairman of Wärtsilä Energy and EVP Wärtsilä Corporation of Finland.
With energy prices at record highs, policymakers are facing a watershed moment in the energy transition. Europe is in the latest in a long string of energy crises dating back to the 1970s, with rising wholesale gas prices and skyrocketing energy bills for households and businesses across the continent.
As the costs weigh in and the conflict continues, it is essential that European policymakers remain focused on two distinct time horizons. Leaders must take steps to ensure short-term energy security. But they must not lose sight of the medium- and long-term opportunity: to finally tackle the root of the problem.
To make this the latest energy crisis and cost-effectively reach the European Union’s (EU) net zero target, EU leaders must boldly expand renewable energy at an unprecedented rate.
We are on the precipice of a once-in-a-generation moment to quickly and permanently switch to renewable energy, reducing emissions and harnessing the potential of unlimited clean energy. To understand the opportunity, we recently modeled a predominantly renewable-based power system built by 2030.
The model selected the least-cost technologies to meet the electricity demand of 33 European countries (EU and non-EU), as well as the balancing technologies required to support variable renewable generation.
323 billion euros can be saved by doubling renewable energy by 2030
The results are striking. Analysis finds Europe can halve its electricity sector’s gas consumption, cut energy costs by €323 billion by doubling its share of renewables – from around 33% today to over by 60% by 2030. This, in turn, would reduce electricity bills by 10%, while putting Europe on track to meet its 55% GHG reduction target by 2030.
Above all, it allows to reduce the annual gas consumption in the electricity sector by 52% by 2030. This avoids 5,456 TWh of gas consumption, which is the equivalent of 3.5 years of gas supply. EU Russian; significantly increase energy independence.
80 GW per year of renewable energy – transformational, but achievable and now critical
Make no mistake, what we have modeled requires a monumental but achievable build of energy infrastructure – up to 80 GW per year of renewable capacity. Flexible and reliable grids also require renewable capacity to be bolstered by balancing technologies, which effectively “level” renewables in a base load role, replacing fossil fuels.
But what level of capex would be needed to build 80 GW of renewable energy? On an annual basis, Europe would collectively need to invest over €63 billion, including balancing and renewables.
To put this into context, the EU has installed 37 GW of wind and solar power in 2021. But looking outside of Europe, it is clear that with the right coordination, 80 GW per year is achievable.
For example, China installed 17GW of offshore wind last year, more than double the amount built the year before – and more than the rest of the world combined in the past five years.
The latest IPCC mitigation report makes clear that to limit warming to around 1.5°C, global greenhouse gas emissions must peak by 2025 – and be reduced by 43% by 2030 The electricity sector provides the lowest payoff for these emission reductions and must take the lead in electrification.
Additionally, the influx of renewable energy entering power systems is creating the conditions for excess clean electricity to be used as feedstock for new types of future hydrogen-based and carbon-neutral fuels. .
Once our power grids are powered primarily by renewables, other sectors, such as heavy industry and transportation, can be powered by both clean and abundant electricity, as well as renewable-based fuels. hydrogen, for a deep decarbonisation of our economies by 2050.
The EU can be a multiplier of low carbon technologies
Adding 80 GW of renewable energy each year requires a level of transnational cooperation that the EU is hardwired to achieve. Through coordinated action, the bloc can unlock breathtaking economies of scale in renewable energy deployment.
The multiplier effect of countries working together to commercialize innovation is clearly demonstrated by the “Energiewende”.
Germany’s clean energy plan focused its industrial and engineering capabilities, as well as its financial capacity, on rapidly increasing the adoption of solar photovoltaic technology – before the baton was passed to the China, which further reduced costs, driving global adoption.
The same multiplier effect can be achieved in Europe. By encouraging cross-border infrastructure projects, the EU can link the energy systems of its member countries to promote energy security and efficiency and to rationalize the costs of transition.
Clearly, at the local level, European countries need to deploy renewables as quickly as possible, and this can be done by establishing licensing frameworks to give renewable energy projects priority status – more by accelerating the approval.
Ultimately, to unlock the full potential of 100% renewable power systems, we must build networks with flexibility at their core. And this is achievable by creating market frameworks to encourage investment in flexible balancing capacity that can support the shift to renewable baseload energy.
Energy independence does not have to cost consumers more
The combination of the competitive price of renewable technologies compared to fossil fuels and the imperative to avoid the climate crisis has made the deployment of large-scale renewables politically acceptable and economically smart.
The continued reliance on base gas, along with the lock-in of new fossil fuel infrastructure to burn it, represents acute volatility for businesses and consumers.
The current opportunity to switch to renewable grids would have seemed unthinkable a decade ago, with the still high demand for fossil fuels acting as an insurmountable barrier to action.
But now, for the first time, the electricity sector is actively trying to reduce the demand for natural gas. The price crisis, aggravated by the war in Ukraine, has provided the clearest signal that countries must move away from baseload gas towards traditional renewables, backed by balancing technologies, at breathtaking speed. .
At this crucial juncture, it is essential that countries avoid blocking investment in new rigid fossil fuel power plants, such as coal, which are incompatible with energy security and Europe’s net zero goals. We have the technologies and expertise we need for a rapid transition. All we need now is political will.