“Electricity key to climate solutions”

“Electricity key to climate solutions”

Senior researcher Malcolm Keay at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies is convinced that electricity will play a key part in Europe’s climate solutions in the future.

“A sustainable system in Europe must be based on a zero-emission power system. This means that electricity will be an essential part of the climate solutions, directly by decarbonising the power sector, but also indirectly by electricity contributing to decarbonising other sectors,” Keay says.

The EU Commission has proposed a 40 per cent cut in total greenhouse gas emissions in the EU by 2030, compared with 1990 levels. The consumption of renewable energy will be increased to 27 per cent. The Commission’s proposal was presented on 22 January and will now be submitted to the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers. A final decision is not expected until next year.

“Establishing a fully sustainable energy system in Europe will take a very long time, and will require major changes in energy sources and production. This will not happen overnight. I also envisage political challenges in terms of establishing a uniform approach, but I believe it is very important that Europe starts to take specific steps in this direction,” Keay says, who is not impressed with the EU Commission’s proposed climate objectives. He thinks they are too modest, yet difficult to achieve.

“The new targets are less ambitious than the 2020 targets. They reflect increasing economic concerns, since the 2020 targets were agreed when environmental issues were more prominent,” says Keay.

He has extensive experience from the energy sector, and conducts research into political and regulatory issues affecting electricity and energy markets and the effect on energy security and the environment.

Vague proposals

All member countries have their individual challenges relating to the energy sector, and they are adopting different measures to meet them. This means, for instance, that they all have their own systems for supporting renewable energy. According to Keay, the EU’s proposed 2030 target is not really consistent with its long-term objective of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 per cent by 2050, compared with 1990 levels.

“In 2030, we will have come two-thirds of the way towards 2050, but we will only have achieved emission reductions of 40 per cent, and the most difficult parts of the task remains. In the UK, emission reductions of 50 per cent by 2025 have been laid down in law, which is probably achievable. However, the European strategy is really no strategy at all, just a collection of well-meaning thoughts. It seems as if they are pushing the difficult questions into the future,” Keay says.

He says that something might happen on the technology front that will solve these challenges, but many initiatives that have already been tested do not seem very promising.

“The use of bio-fuel in the transport sector has turned out to be largely unsustainable, and even though we are progressing well with electric cars, this has only had a minor impact in the grand scheme of things. These are widely-discussed topics, but very little is actually being done,” Keay says.

A genuine commitment to rigorous targets would be an incentive in itself for people to engage in research and development of new energy sources, Keay believes, adding that Norway is in a unique situation.

“You are already doing well in many of these fields. But Europe in general is facing many problems that are not being addressed,” Keay says. He believes that energy use in 2030 will not have changed as much as many people believe.

To reach the renewable energy target of 27 per cent of the overall power consumption by 2030, the share of renewable energy in the total energy production must be 50 per cent. Keay believes that in 2030, we will be using more gas, but less nuclear energy and coal. 

If Europe manages to build a sufficient number of power lines for renewable energy sources, trading across national boundaries will become very important, both within Europe and with non-European countries.

Senior researcher Malcolm Keay at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies

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Electricity is part of the solution

“Electricity has to be a key part of the solution. The strategy adopted by most countries is to first decarbonise electricity, and then decarbonise other sectors. Most likely, the strategy for decarbonising other sectors will be to introduce low-carbon electricity to these sectors.”

For the transport sector, it seems increasingly unlikely that biofuels will be a platform for the future low-carbon transport system. Electric cars are much more likely. The same applies to household heating and in some cases for industry.

Local specialisation

Throughout Europe, there are major plans for construction of new power lines, which will connect various regions. In Norway, Statnett is progressing well with the construction of the next generation main grid, involving new power lines, voltage upgrades to 420 kV and several interconnectors.

“If Europe manages to build a sufficient number of power lines for renewable energy sources, trading across national boundaries will become very important, both within Europe and with non-European countries,” Keay says.

However, location is the challenge of renewable energy sources – some places have a lot of sunshine, some a lot of wind, whereas countries such as Norway have a lot of hydropower. According to Keay, the problem is that many countries in North-West Europe, such as Germany, the Republic of Ireland and Britain, have the same natural resources, which means they are building the same types of power plants. Consequently, it becomes difficult to sell electricity to each other, as the various countries will have power surpluses and shortfalls at the same time.

Text: Sissel Fantoft Photo: Statnett

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