The cheapest, fastest and most cost-effective way to achieve the EU goal of climate neutrality by 2050 with a max. 1.5 degree temperature increase will entail a massive roll-out of solar, wind and electrolysers over the next many years.
What will it cost to reach the goal of the Paris Agreement and limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius? Is it at all possible? And what if we aim for two degrees instead? Will it be cheaper?
These are some of the questions that researchers from Aarhus University, in collaboration with German researchers, have tried to answer by modelling the green transition of the sector-coupled European energy system, which also takes into account fossil fuel depending industries. The research has just been published in the prestigious journal, Joule.
The answer is that, if we are to have a climate-neutral energy supply before 2050, and keep the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees, we need to start installing a lot of solar and wind power, while at the same time investing massively in Power-to-X technologies and include at least some carbon-capture.
“We can reach the goal of the Paris Agreement, but there’s a price to pay. Among other things, it will require massive installation of wind and solar energy amounting to 400 GW of new capacity every year. This aligns well with the Danish Government’s goal of four-times more wind and solar energy before 2030, but the goal also applies to all European countries,” says Associate Professor Marta Victoria, an expert in energy systems modelling and solar photovoltaics at Aarhus University, Department of Mechanical and Production Engineering.
The model confirms the need for installation of 400 GW solar and wind energy in the years 2025-2035. This is far above the European historical maximum of approx. 50 GW. Furthermore, the existing energy grid needs strengthening, so that it can sustain this significant deployment of fluctuating, renewable energy sources.
The deployment of renewable energy will lead to comprehensive electrification of European societies. The parts of industry and the transport sector that cannot be electrified, for example aviation, shipping and freight transport, have a great need for green fuels and chemicals with a high energy density:
“Here, Power-to-X including hydrogen production, play a crucial role, and these technologies will also be used as storage media to help balance solar and wind energy production” says Marta Victoria.
She continues, “It’s also important to develop technologies that can capture CO2 from the atmosphere. Without these, it will be almost impossible to meet the challenge posed by the Paris Agreement and keep us within 1.5 degrees Celsius as suggested in the Agreement.”
The associate professor and the rest of the research group have also considered whether it would be cheaper and more cost-effective to be a little less ambitious about the climate. The answer is both yes and no, because among other things it depends on the cost associated with stronger climate change impacts in the 2 C option, compared to the 1.5 C.
“If we assume that the 2 C option suffers from more serious climate change impacts, the economic consequences of this will outweigh the costs of the 1.5 C option,” says Marta Victoria, although she confirms that a 2 C option will require a significantly lower annual installation rate for wind and solar power.
Marta Victoria stresses that this research has only looked at what it will take to achieve political goals, for example a maximum temperature increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius. The research is based on all known forms of energy and high-resolution time data for all European countries, and it describes the most cost-effective, cheapest and fastest way to reach the goals. The high-resolution model was run in PRIME, a high-performance computing cluster at Aarhus University, Department of Mechanical and Production Engineering.
The research was coordinated by Aarhus University and it was carried out in collaboration with researchers from the Technical University of Berlin. The scientific article is available via this link.