Could Europe's economy reduce its CO2 emissions by 95% by 2050? An EU-funded project has predicted how an integrated smart grid could evolve by 2050, supporting greater use of green power and a secure, reliable energy supply.
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Europe is rapidly moving towards higher use of renewables, to reduce carbon emissions and develop a more secure energy supply. Today, power companies deliver electricity using a patchwork of grids originally built for predictable fossil-fuel-generated power. The e-Highway2050 project has modelled how this network could evolve to supply reliable energy from more variable low-carbon sources.
Electricity transmission companies, academic institutions, consultancy firms and industry joined forces to predict where Europe would need new transmission infrastructure by 2050, along with its costs and benefits. Experts developed software and methods to plan the possible structure of an integrated EU-wide smart grid to support an economy based on clean energy and an integrated electricity market.
An integrated European grid could transmit electricity across the continent’s borders for maximum resource efficiency.
Although several national models for planning future grids already exist, e-Highway2050 offers a new scope, says project coordinator Gérald Sanchis of France’s Réseau de Transport d'Electricité. “It covers the whole European continent. And we take into account generation with renewables, focusing on wind and photovoltaics, up to 2050.”
The project is part of the EU’s Strategic Energy Technology Plan (SET-Plan), which is speeding up development and use of low-carbon technologies. “e-Highway2050 developed as a link between the EU’s climate objectives and energy policy,” says Sanchis. “We showed it is possible to have a new energy mix. It is possible to develop a grid that allows up to 100% renewables, without needing a new overlay structure complementing the existing transmission network.”
Project partners looked for common features in how grids would evolve by 2050 under different approaches to cutting carbon emissions:
- Production based on 100% renewables
- A wholly market-driven electricity sector
- Large-scale renewable energy production
- Local, de-centralised renewable energy production
- Carbon-capture and storage and nuclear energy.
Sanchis explains that the EU-funded project focused on grid development rather than storage because of cost. “Storage is not cheap at the moment – the technology has to develop – so adapting the grid is a solution …The project advises on possibilities for further investigation.” Also, storage cannot transport energy from remote generation areas such as offshore farms; in such cases, the grid remains the only option.
The modelled scenarios looked at the impacts of physical factors – current and possible network, storage facilities, weather, likely demand – while aiming for the best environmental, economic and social outcomes. They drew their data from long-term EU, US and international studies, including studies by the World Environment Organization.
The simulations confirmed that Europe’s transmission network would need to expand by 2050 to allow power companies and independent producers to deliver all the energy that renewables would generate and avoid falling back on traditional, polluting power sources.
A basic set of new transmission infrastructure was identified across all five scenarios. Major supply corridors would be needed to connect the North of Europe with the South and new networks would grow up around new generation capacity – especially around capacity from renewable sources. Similar requirements identified by project partner ENTSO-E – the European Network of Transmission System Operators – support these results.
The cost of expanding the grid would be outweighed by the value of expected savings, according to e-Highway2050’s forecasts. In the most challenging scenario, with 100% renewables, an integrated pan-European grid would deliver up to 500 TWh of energy that would otherwise be lost, and this increased use of renewables would prevent 200 Mt of carbon emissions.
The project’s results are now available on its website or in publications. ENTSO-E intends to continue developing the models and methods, says Sanchis, while follow-on projects are in the pipeline, such as a proposed investigation of how to adapt the North Sea grid for wind.