Europe Needs to Triple Wind and Solar Growth to Reach 2030 Climate Target
Date: February 5th 2021
Author: Tanja Srnovršnik
Europe needs to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the next ten years by as much as it has over the past 30 years if it wants to achieve the GHG emission reduction target of 55% by 2030. “All studies show that the most efficient way to reach this target is to decarbonise the power sector very quickly,” said Matthias Buck from Agora Energiewende on Thursday.The EU generated more electricity from renewables than from fossil fuels for the first time in 2020. Renewables thus accounted for 38% of Europe's electricity mix in 2020 (34.6% in 2019), compared with only 37% for fossil fuels, according to a joint analysis by Agora Energiewende and the British think tank Ember (MORE).
However, according to the main scenario included in the European Commission’s impact assessment for the 55% GHG reduction target, the share of renewables in the EU-27 power mix will need to grow to 68% by 2030, while that of coal will need to fall from an estimated 13% in 2020 to 2%, stressed Buck.
Thus, even though wind and solar are powering the transition, as they grew by 10% in the EU-27 in 2020 and already accounted for one-fifth of EU electricity in 2020, their growth needs to almost triple to reach the EU climate target, stressed Dave Jones from Ember.
“To get us to 68% of renewables in the EU power mix, wind and solar generation growth must reach around 100 TWh per year by 2030,” said Jones, noting that in the past decade this growth has been about 38 TWh per year on average, with the exception of 51 TWh in 2020.
“If we add up all the national energy and climate plans (NECPs), we get to around 72 TWh per year worth of growth. It is really nice to see those national plans stepping up to twice the level of the build up that we had, but we need to be at three times that level of build to be able to reach the climate targets,” noted Jones.
He also mentioned that looking at the past decade, there was little growth in wind and solar in the second half of the decade (2015-2020) in Bulgaria and Romania.
Coal generation halved since 2015
Coal generation has almost halved in the last five years, while last year it fell by 20%, reaching 13% of the EU power generation mix, noted Jones.
Last year was also the second year in a row that lignite generation showed a large fall, said Jones, while Fabian Hein from Agora Energiewende added that gas power plants were cheaper than lignite power plants for a large part of 2020.
However, only half of the 340 TWh fall in coal was due to rising wind and solar (+176 TWh), as gas-fired power generation also increased in the 2015-2020 period (by 148 TWh), noted Jones.
Meanwhile, gas-fired power generation fell by 4% last year, while on the other hand, there was a big fall in nuclear generation (-10%).
According to Jones, this fall in nuclear generation was “offset by the large decrease in electricity demand. If that nuclear generation had not fallen, then we would have seen an even faster fall in fossil generation.”
Counting on innovation
While the phase out of coal is accelerating, “there is still a huge amount of work that needs to happen to get to the next stage of knocking gas out of the electricity mix,” stressed Jones.
However, the question remains of how blackouts can be prevented if gas fired-power generation is also reduced. On that note, Hein mentioned that in Germany, the largest share of primary control reserve is fulfilled by batteries (rather than conventional power plants) when quick responses are required in the grid.
“Flexibility options will also be much more important in the future,” said Hein, adding that “some gas power plants driven by hydrogen” will also be needed.
“Building up a transition is a step-wise approach,” added Jones, adding that the innovation taking place in terms of long-term energy storage “is really encouraging.”
“The rate of innovation gives one hope that by the time we do get there (the end of the energy transition; author’s note) we will have the answers that we need,” assessed Jones.
This article is available also in Slovene.
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