Energy  |  Publications  |  12.07.2012

Decarbonising the EU energy supply: the study of the studies

This study commissioned by the Smart Energy for Europe Platform is the first ever comparison of different relevant energy scenario studies for Europe at the horizon 2050. It shows several similarities, but also reveals key differences, notably related to the respective role of nuclear power and CCS technology in any future European power sector.

The EU has a major role to play in the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. The need to have an "EU Energy Roadmap 2050" triggered between 2009 and 2012 a multitude of studies, scenarios and roadmaps from national and international stakeholders such as the European Commission, NGOs and industry associations. The fact that each study used different assumptions, approaches and methodologies can make it difficult for policy makers to apply the results to concrete policy decisions.

That is why the Smart Energy for Europe Platform has commissioned a comparative study of Europe's leading energy scenarios from two leading experts: Dr. Stefan Lechtenböhmer (Wuppertal Institute) and Dr. Felix Christian Matthes (Öko-Institut).

The comparative study has developed a comprehensive methodology, which enables the analysis, comparison and better understanding of robust results across different scenario studies, and applied this methodology on 11 selected energy scenarios of the four most relevant 2050 energy scenario studies:


Main findings

The comparison between the scenarios demonstrates several similarities and reveales a few important differences. The following mitigation strategies play a key role in all of the scenarios and can thus be regarded as “robust” strategies in the decarbonisation process:

Significantly speeding up energy end-use efficiency improvements. The future growth in electricity demand will have  to be limited in order to be able to achieve large emission reductions in the power sector. End-use efficiency needs to improve considerably faster than in the past. This strongly suggests that additional policy initiatives are required. 

Ensuring high growth dynamics of renewables until 2020 and beyond. While many EU Member States have successfully increased the share of renewable energy sources in electricity generation in recent years, the analysis has shown that for the EU as a whole an acceleration of recent trends is required to be able to follow a plausible long-term decarbonisation pathway.

Preventing or at least limiting the construction of CO2 intensive power plants. All of the decarbonisation scenarios analysed suggest that climate change mitigation leaves no room for many additional high-emitting power plants that do not use CCS technology. However, the current (July 2012) CO2 price of well below 10 €/t CO2 is too low to sufficiently disincentive the use and construction of such plants. 

Ensuring sufficient flexibility of the power system to deal with growing share of renewables. The increasing share of renewable energy sources, especially of wind and solar energy will require the use of multiple options to increase flexibility within the power system. The grid will need modifications and complementary power plants will have to be sufficiently flexible in the years to come. In the longer term additional storage capacity will be required.

The main area of disagreement between the various decarbonisation scenarios analysed is the respective role of nuclear power and CCS technology in any future European power sector. Uncertainty about these technologies is driven by questions about their costs, their social acceptance but also about their compatibility within a future electricity system dominated by fluctuating renewable energy sources.


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