Roadmap 2050 has concluded that Europe’s energy production will have to be almost carbon-free in order to reach the Commission’s latest target of reducing emissions by 80-95 per cent of 1990 levels over the next 38 years.
Most recent statistics show that the level of the EU 27’s greenhouse gas emissions has fallen by 15 per cent from 5.59 billion tonnes in 1990 to 4.72 billion tonnes in 2010.
Following the Commission’s 2020 targets will reduce emissions by 40 per cent by 2050 therefore the Commission believes that urgent change is needed in member states’ energy policy. In addition, energy investments take time to produce results and infrastructure built 30-40 years ago needs to be replaced urgently. The roadmap points out that investing now would avoid costly changes in later decades and reduce lock-in effects (whereby carbon-emitting infrastructure built from now will emit for decades).
In order to determine how the 2050 decarbonisation target will be achieved, the roadmap examines seven scenarios that could reduce emissions while ensuring that each country retains its security of supply and competitiveness.
According to Director General for Energy Philip Lowe, action needs to be taken now because “companies, financial institutions and governments are contemplating future investments and policies with an increasingly large component of [market, political, technological, policy and regulatory] risk and uncertainty.”
Uncertainty is inevitable because it is “impossible” to anticipate when an oil peak will occur, how viable shale gas will be in Europe, whether carbon capture and storage (CCS) will become commercially viable and what role member states will give to nuclear power.
The roadmap will not replace national plans to modernise energy supply. However, it sets itself as a ‘technology-neutral’ framework that, if followed by all member states, would increase security and lower costs by providing a wider and flexible market for new products and services. Further policy initiatives on specific areas will follow in the coming years, starting with proposals on the internal market, renewable energy and nuclear safety later in 2012.
The reference scenario includes current policies e.g. the 2020 targets for renewable energy systems share and greenhouse gas reductions and the Emissions Trading Scheme Directive. It takes the long-term projection that GDP growth will be 1.7 per cent per annum.
Safety measures adopted following Fukushima and proposals in the Energy 2020 Strategy (e.g. to complete the internal energy market by 2015) are included in the current policy initiatives scenario. It also includes proposed actions in the Energy Efficiency Plan (retrofitting homes and public sector buildings and rolling out smart metres) and in the new Energy Taxation Directive (i.e. introducing a CO2 element into energy taxation).
A high energy efficiency scenario would see a political commitment to very high energy savings. It includes more stringent minimum requirements for appliances and new buildings, the renovation of existing buildings and energy savings obligations on energy utilities. This would lead to a decrease in energy demand of 41 per cent by 2050, compared to the peaks in 2005-2006.
No technology is preferred in the diversified supply technologies scenario. All energy sources could compete on a market basis with no specific support measures. Decarbonisation would be driven by carbon pricing, assuming public acceptance of both nuclear and CCS.
Renewable energy systems would have a 75 per cent share of final energy consumption by 2050 and 97 per cent of electricity consumption, according to the high renewable energy sources scenario.
In the delayed CCS scenario, there would be higher shares for nuclear energy and decarbonisation would be driven by carbon prices rather than a technology push.
Only nuclear reactors currently being built would continue under the low nuclear scenario. This would result in a higher penetration of CCS (around 32 per cent in power generation by 2050).
A few things are certain. Renewable energy will be central to energy policy going forward. In addition, the price of electricity will increase between now and 2030 regardless of whether Europe goes for decarbonisation. If Europe continues with its current energy mix, the increase in the price of coal, oil and gas will drive up the price of electricity. If it decides to decarbonise, electricity prices will rise because of heavy investment and construction of new infrastructure.
Ocean energy, concentrated solar power and biofuels need more investment to bring down costs. The decarbonisation of heating and cooling requires a shift to low carbon heat pumps and storage heaters and to renewable energy sources such as solar heating, geothermal and biogas.
If CCS were available and applied at large scale, gas may become a low-carbon technology. However, without CCS, the long term role of gas may be as a flexible back-up to renewable energy supplies. For all fossil fuels, CCS will have to be applied from around 2030 onwards in order to reach the decarbonisation targets.
Energy policy will need to take full account of how each national electricity system is affected by decisions in neighbouring countries.
While the capital costs required for investment would inevitably be high, the cost of fuel would be lower. This is due to current energy supply capacities coming to an end of their useful life and a decline in fossil fuel imports as renewables increase.
Continuing current energy policies would bring the total energy system cost to 14.6 per cent of European gross domestic product in 2050, roughly the same as the other scenarios, the roadmap states. This compares to 10.5 per cent in 2005.
Household expenditure on energy (including for transport) is likely to rise to around 16 per cent in 2030, and will decrease to 15 per cent in 2050. Likewise, small and medium-sized enterprises would be affected. Again, this would be balanced in the future by the decreased cost and need for fossil fuels.
Decarbonisation would create jobs and research is needed to develop more cost-competitive technologies. As more wind turbines and potentially unsightly pylons and storage facilities will have to be built, a “more vigorous social dialogue” is needed.
The UK Department of Energy and Climate Change welcomed the roadmap. In order for the UK to meet its 2050 targets, the electricity sector will need to decarbonise during the 2030s. It intends to implement feed-in tariffs for all low-carbon technologies, a capacity mechanism to stimulate investment in back-up power, an emissions performance standard, and (from 1 April 2013) a carbon price floor to attract investment.
Ireland’s Energy Minister Pat Rabbitte has said that the roadmap “shows the importance of a fundamental shift away from fossil fuels” and added that Ireland’s “abundance of onshore and offshore wind resources” means it is “well placed to feature prominently in the euro-wide energy sector.”
He introduced the Renewable Energy Feed-In-Tariff (REFIT 3) in February for biomass technologies and REFIT 2 in March for onshore wind, hydro and landfill gas. He has stressed the importance of having a national electricity grid that will be able to carry the wind energy at least cost and maximum efficiency. This will require the ongoing roll out of the Grid 25 programme and the delivery of the North/South transmission reinforcements and the completion of the East-West Interconnector.