Mapping a faster route to zero emissions Europe – new report

A new clean energy scenario shows that the EU can achieve climate neutrality by 2040 – a decade before the 2050 target – raising hopes for the fight against the climate crisis.

An energy system relying entirely on renewable energy is within Europe’s reach, according to a new analysis led by Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe and the European Environmental Bureau (EEB).

The scenario is the first-ever to be developed by civil society organisations in cooperation with grid operators, industry representatives, economists, and researchers. It finds that the European Union can achieve climate neutrality by 2040 – 10 years earlier than agreed by governments and institutions. It also finds that the bloc can cut emissions by 65% through 2030, as opposed to the current EU target of 40%.

The report outlines projections about future energy demand and supply across the EU and the UK, paving the way for an energy outlook compatible with the goal of limiting global warming to 2°C as agreed under the Paris Agreement.

Speaking at a virtual event organised for the launch of the report, the EEB’s EU Policy Director Patrick ten Brink said:

This report shows that not only is climate neutrality possible, but it can also be achieved much earlier than suggested by the European Commission. It provides a roadmap for a healthier future and a more resilient economy based on clean energy and the principles of sustainability

Wendel Trio, the Director of CAN Europe, said:

This scenario clearly shows that there’s only one type of barrier to being ambitious enough and limiting temperature rise to 1.5°: man-made ones. We have the technology, we have the resources and now is the moment for Europe to take transformational action.”

The report comes as EU institutions and governments are putting forward unprecedented plans to fund a green recovery for a post-coronavirus Europe. The authors have called on policymakers to shift investments away from fossil fuels and towards clean energy infrastructure, energy and resource efficiency, and sustainable business practices.

Earlier this year, the governments of Austria, Denmark, Ireland, Lithuania, Luxembourg and Spain called on the European Commission to include a 100% renewable energy scenario in long-term climate projections. 

A. How much energy will Europe need in the coming decades?

Energy savings alone could halve the EU’s energy demand by 2040, according to the scenario. This would be mainly due to deep renovation and insulation of Europe’s ageing homes and offices, increased efficiency of vehicles in transport, modernisation of industrial production processes, energy efficiency gains in home appliances and a reduction in demand for raw materials through waste prevention, reusing and recycling.

B. Which type of energy?

EU Member States need to multiply their solar and wind electricity generation capacities and put energy efficiency first, in particular with a deep renovation wave in the buildings sector. We have to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and consider a complete phase out ofc coal – the most polluting energy carrier – by 2030, fossil gas by 2035 and fossil oil products by 2040. The PAC scenario does not expect any lifetime extension of nuclear power. On the contrary, increasing costs of maintenance, of the fuel chain and decommissioning rather tend to incentivise earlier retirements. By 2040, we should phase out nuclear power too. Renewable electricity generation more than triples during the decade from 2020 to 2030. This leads to renewables covering 50% of gross final energy consumption in 2030 and 100% in 2040. Such an increase of renewable energy is one of the key elements for cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 65% by 2030. By 2040 we should have 100% renewables.

How much electricity will we consume by 2040?

Despite important improvements of efficiency of electric appliances, electricity demand doubles between 2015 and 2040 in the PAC scenario. The ramping up of the electric vehicles fleet as well as the replacement of fossil gas boilers with electric heat pumps increase the renewable electricity demand. The most important driver however will be electrolysers that produce renewable hydrogen with additional renewable electricity (30% of final electricity demand in 2040).The PAC scenario shows that many industrial processes can be electrified.

What does the scenario foresee for transport, especially aviation?

Fossil oil will be phased out by 2040 in the transport sector by electrifying vehicles such as passenger cars, busses, vans and parts of long-distance freight. Only parts of heavy freight will adopt renewable hydrogen used in fuel cells. Long-distance shipping needs to use renewable ammonia which is derived from renewable hydrogen but easier to store. In aviation, no new aircraft designs are expected before 2040, meaning that liquid synthetic fuels, also based on renewable hydrogen, will have to be scaled up soon. Liquid biofuels will largely be phased out and shifted to agricultural direct use. They remain a niche product in aviation until 2040. It is possible that some first electric aircraft are introduced beyond 2040, however the effect of this on the transport sector’s energy mix would be negligible.

What does the scenario foresee for the use of hydrogen?

Only renewable hydrogen that is produced through electrolysis with renewable electricity brings about a climate benefit. The PAC scenario shows that the EU has sufficient renewable energy potentials to produce the additional electricity needed to run the electrolysers. As producing renewable hydrogen and other non-fossil gases and fuels such as synthetic methane and liquid synthetic fuels is linked with high losses, the direct use of renewable electricity is the preferred option. Only in those sectors where an energy carrier with high energy density is needed do we foresee the introduction of renewable hydrogen, e.g. in the steel industry, in shipping, aviation and partly in long-distance heavy freight. For efficiency reasons, neither renewable hydrogen nor synthetic methane are introduced for heating in buildings.