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Making Europe’s energy supply compatible with the Paris Agreement

New civil society scenario shows pathway towards 65% emission reductions by 2030

By: Jörg Mülenhoff

The EU is lagging behind. Its old 2030 target of cutting emissions by 40% dates back from the time before the Paris Agreement. Such a slow pace obviously is not sufficient to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C. The United Nations Emission Gap report clearly states that the EU needs to cut its emissions by 7.6% every year between now and 2030 to ensure the 1.5°C temperature target is still attainable. Based on science and on the equity principle, it’s high time for the EU to take its responsibility.

How to get the EU back on track?

European NGOs have elaborated a detailed emission reduction pathway, their energy PAC scenario. It shows how industry, buildings and transport can reach 65% emission reductions by 2030 to achieve net zero emissions by 2040 in a fully renewable energy system. The grassroots approach in scenario building makes the PAC scenario the first of its kind. It is backed by Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe and the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) membership, representing several hundred European NGOs such as AirClim, with altogether more than 47 million individual members.

Based on proven solutions

The PAC scenario follows a rather conservative approach: In its calculations, it refers almost exclusively to mature technologies that are already available and introduced into markets. The message is that 65% emission reductions and 100% renewables are absolutely feasible and that we can start the transition right now.

“We are not the first or the only ones,” states Wendel Trio, director of CAN Europe. The PAC scenario actually took over data and findings from a number of reference studies, such as the Finnish LUT University’s 100% renewable energy model for Europe (see Acid News no. 2, May 2020). The key assumptions were developed over one and a half years of interactive scenario building with more than 150 members and academia. This allowed consistent integration of the different policy demands of NGOs, including boundaries such as the protection of biodiversity or sustainability of raw materials supply.

Circular economy in the industry

Let us take a closer look at how Europe’s energy landscape evolves according to the PAC scenario findings. We start with the industry sector. This energy-intensive sector is often considered as being difficult to decarbonise. The PAC scenario however describes the manifold emissions reduction potential related to a circular economy:

  • Implementing the principles of reduce, reuse and recycle in industrial value chains makes products less resource-intensive and thus less energy-intensive. For instance, plastics will become highly circular materials, cutting the raw material demand and energy demand of the chemicals industry. Key findings were taken from the circular economy scenario of the Material Economics report and a number of branch-specific assessments.
  • By electrifying production processes, in particular in the steel industry, renewable electricity replaces fossil fuels (see for example Acid News no. 2, May 2020: “CCS is not needed”). Those production processes that require high temperatures are covered by renewable hydrogen or sustainably sourced biomethane.

The double opportunity of deep renovation of buildings

The key trend for the buildings we are living and working in is the deep renovation wave. The energy demand of the residential and tertiary sectors are reduced by almost two-thirds between 2015 and 2050.

  • While currently only 1% of the existing building stock in the EU are renovated every year, this renovation rate increases to 3%. Most of this refurbishment is a deep renovation that reduces buildings’ energy demand by 60%, for instance by improving the insulation, based on research from the EUCalc project.
  • This deep renovation wave not only cuts energy demand. At the same time it is an opportunity to exchange inefficient individual fossil fuel boilers with electric heat pumps that run on renewable electricity, or to connect the building to a district heating network that distributes renewable heat such as geothermal heat, ambient heat or solar thermal heat.
  • Behavioural changes with regards to the adaptation of digitalisation and home automation can contribute to energy savings, but also bear potential rebound effects. The PAC scenario assumes that technology changes and behavioural changes are important, but do not need to be mobilised to their full extent. The PAC scenario is partly based on findings from a Fraunhofer ISI study commissioned by the Coalition for Energy Savings.

Efficient and electrified transport

For a long time, mobility has been a source of increasing energy demand and greenhouse gas emissions. It’s the sector that currently is the most dependent on fossil fuels. In the PAC scenario, efficiency and electrification are the key trends to enable the transport sector to switch to 100% renewables by 2040, while cutting in half its energy demand.

  • Firstly, our mobility behaviour changes with a stronger modal shift from cars to public transport, cycling and walking. Goods are increasingly transported by rail freight.
  • Remaining cars on the road will all be electrified by 2040 so that they can charge using renewable electricity. The PAC scenario adapts most of the trajectories described in Transport & Environment’s pathways for decarbonising the EU fleet of cars, buses, trucks, planes and ships. Efficiency gains of vehicles will more than offset the slight increase in transport activity.
  • Renewable hydrogen covers those transport sectors that are difficult to electrify, namely shipping with ammonia and aviation with liquid synthetic fuels, both derived from renewable hydrogen.

Phase out fossils and nuclear, increase renewable electricity

In all sectors, renewable electricity takes a central role in phasing out coal by 2030, fossil gas by 2035, followed by fossil oil products. Nuclear largely disappears from the mix by 2040. Electrified industrial processes, electric heat pumps, electric vehicles and electrolysers for hydrogen production altogether double the electricity demand between 2015 and 2050. Solar photovoltaics and wind energy will primarily replace fossil fuels and cover the additional demand. They are already the cheapest sources of electricity, with only limited shares of their total potentials being mobilised so far. By 2030, electricity generation from onshore and offshore wind increases roughly fourfold, while solar electricity multiplies sevenfold.

Flexibility options, the jokers in a 100% renewable system

Will an energy system still be stable if it relies largely on solar and wind power that depend on the weather? The European electricity market modelling carried out by Oeko Institute with the PAC scenario data confirmed that the lights will stay on around the clock. Whenever the sun does not shine or the wind does not blow, a number of flexibility options can fill in the gap: dispatchable renewable energy sources such as hydropower and biogas can ramp up their production when needed. Storage technologies such as pumped hydro and batteries can reinject the electricity stored during stormy and sunny periods. Electrolysers harvest the renewable excess electricity to produce hydrogen.

On the consumer side, industries will increasingly shift their demand to those times when there’s an oversupply of cheap renewables. Well-connected electricity grids, gas grids and heating networks are the base for such a smart interplay. This is not science fiction. Many European regions have already gained experience in providing a stable 100% renewable electricity supply at different times of the year.

Join the PAC scenario building

The PAC scenario gives an aggregated EU-wide overview. How does it translate into country-specific emission reduction pathways? Over the following months, CAN Europe will explore this question together with modellers from Climate Analytics, and with AirClim and other members under the 1.5°C pathways project. As the PAC scenario remains a learning document, CAN Europe is looking forward to welcoming members and other stakeholders who want to contribute to this civil society-led scenario building.

Jörg Mülenhoff

Feel free to download the technical summary of the PAC scenario or reach out to Jörg Mühlenhoff, Energy Scenarios Policy Coordinator at CAN Europe

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