Rhein on Energy and Climate

The European Association of Electricity Producers (Eurelectric) is prepared to phase out its C02 emitting power plants in the course of the coming 40 years so as to become carbon-free by 2050. In return, it expects a “generous” treatment by the EU on regulatory procedures and support for alternative energies.

A priori this looks as an interesting deal. It would greatly help the EU reaching its goal of reducing C02 emissions by 80 percent until 2050.

But the power sector should be doing even better and achieve carbon-free power generation within the next 25 years.

As of today, more than 40 percent of EU power capacity is carbon-free: 30 percent nuclear and 10 percent renewables.

The EU long-term potential of renewable energy is sufficient to cover essentially all EU demands. Wind, solar and tidal will become competitive in the coming 20 years thanks to rapid technological advance and the inevitable rise of fossil energy costs due to climate policy and market forces.

Carbon capture and storage technology will become ready for large-scale deployment by 2030 latest.

The EU climate package will oblige power companies to reduce C02 emissions until 2020 by 20 percent over 2005 and generate 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources. This will raise the share of C02 free electricity generation to at least 50 percent by 2020.

The question is therefore how to accelerate “de-carbonising” power generation beyond 2020.

Here are five elements of an answer:

  • The EU should rapidly fix increasingly tougher emission targets beyond 2020.
  • It should stop commissioning C02-emitting power plants after 2020.
  • It should accelerate the planning and construction of “intelligent” trans-European grids and enforce a rapid separation of power generation, transmission and distribution.
  • Member states south of the Alps should make solar heating and electricity installations mandatory in all new buildings as of 2015.
  • The EU should negotiate “solar power agreements” with interested Maghreb countries before 2012. These agreements should define the basic regulatory framework allowing European utilities to invest in “joint ventures” for solar power generation and export solar electricity to Europe.

Eurelectric should be applauded for having made the opening gambit to an overdue debate on how and when to make European power supply C02 free. This is the sort of political debate Europe has to engage in to secure Europe’s long-term energy security.

The power sector is entitled to know the rules of the game for the 40 years ahead! Its investment decisions concern annual amounts of more than € 400 billion annually.

The political class has to learn looking ahead into the more distant future and define the rules beyond 2020!

Brussels 21.03.09 Eberhard Rhein

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