Policy Choices for a 2050 Zero-carbon Europe

           Carbon and Climate

A March report commissioned by the European Climate Foundation and produced by Element Energy and Cambridge Econometrics presents research into pathways to a fossil-free European energy system by 2050. The report comprises six policy and technology scenarios for fossil-free energy. Three explore energy systems reliant on increasing electrification, and three explore energy systems reliant on green molecules (power-to-gas). The report contrasts with typical policy studies by presenting only scenarios that result in a fossil-free Europe. It is guiding discussions of zero-carbon European energy policy away from its feasibiltiy towards discussions of how it will be achieved.

Three pillars that support a fossil-free European energy system emerge from the report. The first pillar is building stock efficiency. It is found to be the singular most important factor in improving energy efficiency and mitigating peak demand. The second pillar is clean electricity combined with smart electrification. Smart electrification (demand-side response) has the potential to halve the need for thermal sources of energy as dispatchable back-up power and reduces the curtailment of renewables (due to their intermittency) by up to 70%. The third pillar is the penetration of seasonal energy storage throughout Europe, in the form of battery storage and green hydrogen produced through electrolysis from excess renewable electricity. These are infrastructure investments of strategic importance to energy security but should be carefully managed for their cost and used where they add the most value – especially hydrogen. The report finds that green hydrogen’s cost outweighs savings from substituted investment in increasing electrification.

Two policy recommendations for Europe are put forward in conclusion. The first is that clear policy choices in energy infrastructure are required. The second is that a “just transition” strategy must be developed for sectors affected by the transition that re-trains labour for future growth.

The European Climate Foundation is a non-profit organisation promoting low-carbon energy and climate policy in Europe. Element Energy is an energy and climate consultancy in Cambridge and London. Cambridge Econometrics is a thinktank in Cambridge.

Nick Fedson MEng MSc

Nick is an analyst with an interest in energy, climate, and sustainability. Nick maintains both technical and policy interest in these areas, with an undergraduate background in mechanical engineering from the University of Bristol and a recently completed Master’s degree in Global Energy and Climate Policy from SOAS, University of London. He has completed internships in a solar energy consultancy in Brighton, a not-for-profit independent think tank in New Delhi, and in data analysis at a software company in Cambridge.