Europe can achieve climate neutrality before 2050 with 100% renewable energy system

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

The report, 100% Renewable Europe: How to make Europe’s energy system climate neutral before 2050, was launched during a webinar with a presentation from Paula Abreu Marques, Head of Unit Renewables and CCS Policy European Commission. The LUT Energy System Transition model used in this study is applied across an integrated energy system covering demand from power, heat, and transport sectors, which enables the modelling of cost-optimal energy system transition pathways on high levels of geo-spatial (20 regions in Europe) and temporal (hourly) resolutions. For more information, click here.

The study is the first of its kind to model a fully renewable pathway to achieving climate neutrality for the European energy system, presenting three transition pathways, with varying levels of ambition. A key finding of the report is that the low ambition pathway in Europe is a burden for society, from both a climate change and economic perspective. The 100% renewable scenarios result in lower per unit energy costs and show that achieving climate neutrality by 2050 is more cost-effective compared to a lower level of ambition.

Key Findings

1. A 100% renewable energy system enables the EU to become climate neutral before 2050, complying with an ambitious 1.5°C Paris Agreement target, and without resorting to carbon sinks. SolarPower Europe and LUT’s modelling shows that it is possible for Europe to reach 100% renewables by 2050 in a Moderate scenario, and by 2040 in a Leadership scenario.

2. A 100% renewable energy system is the most cost-effective way of becoming climate neutral by 2050. The cumulative costs of achieving a 100% renewable energy by 2050 in the Moderate scenario are 6% lower than the cost of inadequate action in the less ambitious Laggard scenario, which reaches only 62% renewables by 2050, thus missing both the targets of European climate neutrality and the Paris Agreement.

3. A 100% renewable energy system is primarily a solar story. In both of the modelled 100% renewable scenarios, solar generates more than 60% of EU electricity by 2050. In the long run, solar and wind are the two main pillars of the European energy transition. Due to its higher capacity factors, wind energy provides the highest shares of electricity generation up to 2030, however, solar’s versatility and cost-competitiveness will make it the main source of electricity generation from 2030 onwards.

4. A 100% renewable transition triggers the sharpest decline in GHG emissions. Following the path of the 100% renewable scenarios (Moderate and Leadership), GHG emissions will decline by over 60% (from 1990) by 2030, and down to zero in 2050, or even 2040 in the Leadership scenario. In the least ambitious Laggard scenario, Europe reaches only 53% CO2 emission reductions in 2030, and still emits approximately 800 million tonnes of CO2 (MtCO2eq) per year.

5. A high rate of electrification is essential to achieving a 100% renewable and integrated energy system. The drive towards electrification of about 85% in the 100% renewable scenarios enhances sectoral integration, resulting in significant system efficiency gains, thus lowering the cost of the transition.

6. Electrolysers for hydrogen production are a crucial technology for a 100% renewable energy system. From 2030 onwards, renewable hydrogen contributes to the full decarbonisation of the heat and transport sectors, becoming Europe’s second key energy carrier. In the Leadership scenario, by 2040 Europe can even become an exporter of renewable hydrogen’s product, synthetic fuels.

7. Batteries provide the bulk of electricity storage in a 100% renewable energy system. As the share of solar and wind increases significantly beyond 2030, electricity storage becomes crucial in providing an uninterrupted energy supply, backing up to 24% of European electricity demand. As the most cost-efficient storage technology, batteries will contribute up to 98% of electricity storage.

8. A 100% renewable transport sector needs significant synthetic fuels for marine and aviation. From an only 8% share of renewables today, the transport sector has the longest way to go to reach 100% renewables in Europe. Direct electrification emerges as the most efficient solution to decarbonise road transport, but the aviation and marine sectors will rely heavily on renewable synthetic fuels (hydrogen, methane and power-to-liquids). 9. Heat pumps emerge as core part of a 100% renewable energy system, with over 60% share of heat generation by 2050. While final heat demand will grow most compared to the other sectors, by 2050, European heat generation capacity is dominated by heat pumps and direct electric heating solutions.