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Converting just 1% of land to renewable energy production can provide EU's electricity consumption

Solar farms have the highest land use efficiency of all renewable technologies
Solar farms have the highest land use efficiency of all renewable technologies
Sep 30 2019

None of the EU countries are currently using their full potential in terms of renewable energy production.

A new JRC dataset shows where in the EU there is a lot of potential to produce large quantities of energy from renewables.

If renewable energy was the primary energy source in the EU, what would that look like? Would PV panels and wind turbines cover every square meter of land?

No, say the authors of a new JRC study which looks at the renewable energy potential of the EU Member States.

Using 3% of land for solar farms and up to 15% of land for wind energy would be enough to cover the total EU's energy demand exclusively from renewable sources.

Converting just 1% of land to solar farms would already be enough to provide the EU's electricity needs.

Using a new JRC dataset (ENSPRESO), JRC scientists estimated which parts of the EU had a lot of potential to step up energy production from renewables.

Finding potential in unexpected places

The scientists looked at 276 EU regions, and found that none of the EU regions are currently exploiting the full potential for renewable energy production.

"We also saw that contrary to popular opinion, there is also a lot of potential for solar energy in the Northern parts of Europe and a lot of potential to produce wind energy in many countries that are not in North-Western Europe", said JRC researcher Wouter Nijs.

Nevertheless, the top-5 countries with the largest potential for offshore wind turbines are the UK, Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden and Germany.

"The dataset also shows that there are many regions in Eastern Europe – for instance Lithuania, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria and Poland – that have large areas of released or abandoned arable land, which could be used for fast growing energy crops.", said JRC researcher Pablo Ruiz.

Towards EU targets

In the Commissions strategic long-term vision for a prosperous, modern, competitive and climate neutral economy by 2050 – A Clean Planet for All,  models show that eight times more power from solar and wind would be needed to achieve climate neutrality by 2050.

The dataset shows that this is possible using just a fraction of the actual potential, which would allow a 100-fold increase of the current solar and a 20-fold increase of the current wind capacities.

Such transition would require devoting 3% of the total land in the EU to solar and, depending on wind offshore deployments, up to 15% of total land to wind energy.

ENSPRESO

ENSPRESO (ENergy System Potentials for Renewable Energy Sources) is an EU-28 wide, open dataset for energy models on renewable energy potentials.

ENSPRESO estimates where it is technically possible to have high amounts of biomass, wind and solar energy.

ENSPRESO is fully described in an open access paper written in collaboration with DLR, TNO, PSI, DTU, Alterra, DBFZ and UFZ.

The dataset can help EU countries to design their decarbonisation strategies with scientific, non-biased transparent information on renewable energy.

Offshore wind map
Offshore wind also offers a vast potential, especially when also floating turbines are included. Expanding to a water depth of 1000m, the top-5 countries are UK, Ireland, France, Sweden and Spain.

©EU 2019