Diverse mix of energy sources are needed to decarbonise European electricity supply

3 May 2011

Achieving a carbon-free electricity sector throughout Europe will require a broad mix of energy sources, the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) Executive Director explained at a meeting of European Union Energy Ministers in Hungary.

“All sectors will have to play their part to achieve emissions intensity improvements, but the sector which sees greatest abatement, and has been the major focus of energy-sector climate policy, is power generation,” IEA Executive Director Nobou Tanaka said. “In Europe, that decarbonisation process will require a mix of carbon capture and storage-fitted fossil fuel production, as well as renewables and nuclear.”

Given the current uncertainties about the future role of nuclear power, he noted that if Europe follows a "low-nuclear, high renewables" scenario – in line with that presented in the IEA’s Energy Technology Perspectives 2010 – it will require not only the rapid expansion of wind and solar capacity, but also the understanding that a 550 terawatt-hour gap will remain, that must be filled with imports. Mr. Tanaka added: “How clean or secure those imports would be is an open question”. (IEA data show that 550 TWh is equivalent to nearly 18% of total final electricity consumption in OECD Europe in 2008.)

Roadmap 2050

The meeting, taking place on 2 and 3 May in Gödöllo, Hungary, is focusing on Roadmap 2050; an initiative supported by the European Climate Foundation, which aims to provide analysis of pathways to achieve a low-carbon economy in Europe, in line with the European Union’s (EU) goals.

Mr. Tanaka presented scenarios from the World Energy Outlook 2010, the IEA’s flagship annual publication, and explained how they fit in context with Roadmap 2050.

In the World Energy Outlook’s 450 scenario – which sets out an energy pathway consistent with the goal of limiting the global increase in temperature to 2ºC – energy-related CO2 emissions reductions decline 21.5% in 2020, 45% in 2030, and 55% in 2035 (all from 1990 levels).

This is similar to the Roadmap 2050, in which European domestic emissions reductions amount to 25% in 2020, 40% in 2030, 60% in 2040 and 80% in 2050 (all from 1990 levels).

Oil burden

The IEA Executive Director also said that combating climate change will reduce the oil burden faced by the 27 member countries of the EU.

“The benefits of low-carbon policies are not only climate-related but also economic,” he said.

Mr. Tanaka explained that in the IEA’s 450 scenario, oil import bills in Europe are less by one-third by 2035 (representing more than USD 100 billion in savings annually), and the oil import burden falls to less than 1% of GDP.

“Reduced exposure to imports also means reduced exposure to potential supply disruptions, and so a boost to European energy security,” he added.

Key terms:

Carbon capture and storage
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a group of technologies used to reduce CO2 emissions from large CO2 sources such as fossil fuel or biomass power generation and industrial processes such as cement, iron and steel and fertilizer manufacturing. Following the capture of CO2 it is then transported and stored in specifically selected and characterised geological formations over 1000 metres below the ground. Parts of the CCS chain have been used in industry for many decades, but the complete process has been demonstrated at a commercial scale at only five locations around the world.

Energy security
The uninterrupted availability of energy sources at an affordable price.

Oil burden
An oil burden is defined as nominal oil expenditures (demand multiplied by the crude price) divided by nominal GDP.

This is a proxy of how much any given economy spends on its oil needs in a given year.