Senior Researcher, Frischsenteret
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Senior Energy Market Analyst, Statkraft
Hans Christian Ringkop
Former Research Fellow at the University of Bergen
Senior Researcher, Department of Energy Technology, University of Bergen
Even without an offensive climate policy, solar and wind energy could become the dominant energy technologies in Europe.
This is history. Opinions expressed in the text are at the author’s expense.
There is turmoil in the energy market both abroad and here at home in Norway. Recently, there has been doubt about whether the transition to a less carbon-intensive Europe is reliable.
Some political voices believe that the speed of change must be slowed. Others have argued that a green transition should include a significant investment in nuclear power – a technology many consider intimidating.
Solar and wind energy will be cheaper
The Fresh Center, in collaboration with the Ministry of Energy Technology, has conducted analyzes showing that decarbonizing the European economy up to 2050 is feasible if sufficient investment is made in solar and wind energy. the study It was recently published in the famous international magazine Energy.
Even without an offensive climate policy, solar and wind energy could become the dominant energy technologies in Europe. Our study shows.
This is illustrated in the figure below. The panel on the left shows the configuration of Europe’s energy technologies in 2050 if the EU reaches the climate neutrality goal. The panel on the right shows the corresponding configuration without climate policy.
The moderate difference between the two scenarios reflects that nearly all experts expect solar and wind to be cheap energy sources in the coming years.
Solar and wind energy are fundamentally unsuitable for the power system because these technologies are highly weather dependent. Solar power sleeps at night, while wind power is unpredictable and requires that the wind speed not be too low – usually at least 3 m/s – to ensure production.
So solar and wind energy can provide a production profile that is more or less consistent with changes in consumption throughout the day and season. An imbalance between production and consumption can lead to significant price changes. We saw this last winter in Denmark, for example, where the spot rate varied between zero and four kroner per kroner. Kilowatt-hour is an electrical unit.
However, particularly high energy prices can be attributed to a limited extent to the disparity in solar and wind energy. This is probably due primarily to the heavy dependence on fossils combined with the extremely high prices of natural gas and climate quotas.
Geographical climatic differences can be exploited
The disparity in solar and wind energy can be dealt with in several ways:
- Flexible energy production such as gas or bioenergy, which is often associated with carbon capture potential, can be coordinated with solar and wind energy. Then the variance in total energy production corresponds to the variance in consumption to a large extent. For example, if production from solar and wind energy is low, the supply from flexible energy technologies can be correspondingly high.
- The daily demand profile can be shifted towards the solar and wind energy production profile through the active use of market prices, supplemented by public instruments.
- Trade in power between countries can take advantage of geographic climatic differences to compensate for local variation in production.
It is possible to decarbonize European energy production
These three compensation mechanisms are all important. They were also included in our analyses. However, it is not enough to guarantee a predictable energy source for the whole of Europe.
Security of supply requires the active use of energy storage. This is a bag term for a number of technologies that include hydrogen production, battery storage, and pumping water back to energy and power tanks.
The latest technology is particularly interesting because it combines flexible production with significant opportunities for energy storage over a long period of time. With appropriate energy storage technologies, it is possible to decarbonize European power generation while maintaining the security of supply.
Production capacity should be doubled
To meet the EU’s ambitious 2050 climate targets, production capacity in the European energy system must nearly double. This is because solar and wind energy use much less energy than traditional technologies such as fossil fuel-based energy production and nuclear power.
The reason is that there are seldom ideal conditions for sun and wind. Despite the low capacity utilization, investing in solar and wind energy is cost-effective. Both bioenergy (combined with carbon sequestration) and hydropower are climate-friendly alternatives to solar and wind energy, but the potential for developing these technologies is modest in Europe.
Mainly onshore wind energy should be developed, not offshore wind
The study also found that the international transport network in Europe must be increased fivefold to ensure the security of supply.
This sharp increase reflects a broad development of solar energy, especially in southern Europe, while wind energy must be built in countries with particularly good wind conditions. This applies to Norway, among other places.
The sea wind is sailing as the big winner
With our cost assumptions, primarily terrestrial wind energy should be developed, not offshore wind. It is recognized that offshore wind has a much higher utilization capacity than onshore wind. But expert cost estimates suggest that even in 2050, onshore wind power may be cheaper than offshore wind power.
But what if politicians are not willing to use the land to develop wind energy on a large scale? Then the offshore wind sails as the big winner.
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