This European transition scenario demonstrates the capability of a well balanced mix of renewable and fossil energy sources to provide secure, inexpensive and sustainable electricity for the supply of each of the European countries.
Renewable energy can provide the necessary amount of clean energy to achieve the targets for climate stabilisation and reduce the consumption of fossil fuels to the rare times when renewable energy supply and electricity demand do not coincide. The strategy of reducing fossil energy use to peaking power allows for firm capacity on demand and at the same time reduces the consumption of fossil fuels that are a very valuable, ideally stored form of energy that should be exclusively used for that purpose.
Europe has plenty renewable energy sources for power generation. Their total economic potential amounts to about 145 % of the expected future electricity demand. This suggests that the coverage of the demand by 100 % should be achievable within a time span of 50 years. However, 60 % of this potential comes from wind and solar energy, both fluctuating resources that can provide electricity, but almost no firm power capacity on demand. Moreover, the potentials are not distributed uniformly, but are concentrated in typical regions, e.g. hydropower in Scandinavia and the south central mountains, solar energy in the south, wind energy at the northern coasts and geothermal energy in South and Eastern Europe. Therefore, only 80 % of the power mix of the year 2050 will be derived from renewable sources.
An efficient backup infrastructure will be necessary to complement the renewable electricity mix, on one side to provide firm capacity on demand by quickly reacting, natural gas fired peaking plants, and on the other side by an efficient grid infrastructure that allows to distribute renewable electricity from the best centres of production to the main centres of demand. The best solution is a combination of HVDC electricity highways and the conventional AC grid. On the lower voltage level, decentralised structures will also gain importance, combining e.g. PV, wind and micro-turbines operating together just like one, virtual power plant. Such a grid infrastructure will not be motivated by the use of renewables alone. In fact, its construction will probably take place anyway, with the purpose to stabilize the growing Pan-European grid, to provide higher security of supply, and to foster competition. Using fossil energies exclusively for backup purposes will reduce their consumption to a sustainable level and will reduce the quickly escalating cost of power generation. Fossil fuels will be used to provide firm capacity, while renewables will serve to reduce fossil fuel consumption.
Several renewable power technologies can also operate as base load and peaking plants: geothermal (hot dry rock) systems that are today still in a phase of research and development, hydropower plants with large storage dams available in Norway, Iceland and the Alps, most biomass plants and concentrating solar power plants in Middle East and North Africa (MENA), using the high annual solar irradiance of that region, the possibility of solar thermal energy storage for overnight operation and the option of backup firing with fuels. Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) in Europe is bound to significant seasonal fluctuations, and firm peaking power can only be provided with a considerable fossil fuel share. Due to a higher solar irradiance, the cost of CSP is usually lower in MENA than in Europe. Therefore, there will be a significant market for CSP imports to complement the European sources and provide firm power capacity at competitive cost. A requisite of the electricity mix is to provide firm capacity and a reserve of about 25 % in addition to the expected peaking load. Before significant CSP imports start in the year 2020, this can only be provided extending the capacity and fuel consumption of natural gas fired peaking plants. In this scenario, the consumption of natural gas doubles with respect to the starting year 2000, but is then brought back to the initial level, after introducing in 2020 increasing shares of import CSP, geothermal power and hydropower from Scandinavia by HVDC interconnections. European renewable energy sources that could provide firm capacity are rather limited from the point of view of their potentials. Therefore, CSP imports will be useful to reduce both the installed capacity and the fuel consumption of gas fired peaking plants and to provide firm renewable power capacity.
Except for wind power that is already booming today, and hydropower that is already introduced, renewable energy will hardly become visible in the electricity mix before 2020. At the same time, the fade out of nuclear power in many European countries and a stagnating use of coal and lignite due to climate protection will imply increasing pressure on natural gas resources, increasing their consumption as well as their installed capacity.
Renewables will primarily reduce fuel consumption until 2020, but hardly substitute power capacities. Therefore, the total installed capacity will grow faster than the peaking load. Due to the growth of consumption and the substitution of nuclear power, fossil fuel consumption for power generation in Europe cannot be reduced before 2020. Fuel oil for electricity will fade out in 2030, nuclear power will follow after 2040. The consumption of gas and coal will be reduced by 2050 to a compatible and affordable level.
The electricity mix of the year 2000 depends mainly on five resources, most of them limited and imported, while the mix of 2050 will be based on ten energy sources, most of them domestic and renewable. Thus, the given scenario responds to the European Strategy for Sustainable, Competitive and Secure Energy declared by the European Commission in the corresponding Green Paper and Background Document, aiming at higher diversification and security of the European energy supply. The following presentations illustrate this scenario.
In 2050 the avoidance of CO2 is estimated with RUE = 22% = Rational Use of Energy, RES = 66% = Renewable Energy Source and CCS = 12% = Carbon Capture and Sequestration.