WindEurope, the European wind association, has suggested Europe could cut carbon emissions by 90 percent between now and 2050 with a program of mass electrification.
The association’s Breaking New Ground report recommends increasing electrification across the European Union’s power systems from its current level of 24 percent to 62 percent by 2050.
At the same time, the proportion of electricity coming from renewable energy would need to rise to 78 percent. In 2014, the figure was about 28 percent, according to the European Environment Agency.
WindEurope’s report looked at a best-case scenario for electrification under current policies, versus a set of more ambitious plans aimed at keeping global temperatures in line with the Paris Agreement.
Even an “impeccable implementation” of current policies up to 2030 would yield a 51 percent share of electricity in energy use by 2050, the report said, cutting emissions by 74 percent.
Current policies would also lead to climate mitigation costs amounting to 1.2 percent of European gross domestic product. Under WindEurope’s more ambitious plan, though, climate mitigation costs would drop to less than 0.9 percent of GDP.
WindEurope envisages wind covering 36 percent of Europe’s power generation capacity by 2050, with a build-out rate of 20 gigawatts a year for 20 years from 2030.
The association said the electrification program would increase total energy expenditure to the equivalent of 2.7 percent of Europe’s GDP, which it said was half a percent more than what it would be with currently envisaged policies.
“Doing this is both realistic and affordable," said WindEurope CEO Giles Dickson in a press note. “Onshore wind is already the cheapest form of new power generation in many parts of Europe. Offshore wind is not far behind.”
To achieve the association’s mass electrification goal, industrial processes across Europe would have to up their use of electricity to 86 percent of total energy consumption. European buildings, meanwhile, would have to get 64 percent of their energy in the form of electricity.
These levels would lead to emissions reductions of 88 percent and 70 percent, respectively, WindEurope said. Increasing electrification would also help cut overall energy consumption, the report said.
A best-case implementation of current policies would lead to 30 percent overall energy savings to 2050, it said. Energy demand would fall by 36 percent in industrial processes, 7 percent in buildings and 51 percent in transport.
In contrast, WindEurope’s Paris-compatible scenario would lead to 33 percent overall energy savings in 2050. Energy demand would drop by 36 percent in industry, 18 percent in buildings and 46 percent in transport, WindEurope predicted.
Displacing fossil fuels would also help improve air quality, which WindEurope said carried health-related costs equivalent to between 3 percent and 9 percent GDP a year.
However, WindEurope admitted that to achieve a 62 percent level of electrification, Europe would need to build “longer and stronger electricity grids at a much faster rate than in the past 10 years.”
The region would also need to improve the flexibility of its power system, WindEurope said, and resort to storage, power-to-gas and demand response to smooth variable production from wind and solar.
Regardless of whether WindEurope’s numbers add up, there are doubts over whether a mass-electrification program on the scale envisaged by the association could be achievable in practice.
One recent study showed the dominance of electrical heating in France, compared to neighboring countries such as Germany and Spain, might make it harder to decarbonize the grid by increasing seasonal load variations.
And Ilaria Valtimora, associate editor for the Oxford, U.K.-based wind industry intelligence service A Word About Wind, said she expected European Union progress toward renewables-based electrification to be patchy.
“Countries including Norway, Germany, France and the U.K. are taking steps to promote electric vehicles and implement the grid infrastructure to support them,” she said, “but the commitment of EU member states is mixed.
“We believe the success of these initiatives depends on investments from the private sector. In our view, technology development led by private companies moves faster than government policy changes. While we expect change, we believe the private sector must take the lead.”