Researchers from ETH Zurich and TU Delft have developed a model to generate hundreds of ways in which Europe’s energy system can become green and self-sufficient by 2050. They have made their results available on an interactive platform to provide a clearer picture of all the various options and their associated trade-offs.
At present, Europe meets over half of its energy requirements through imports – largely in the form of fossil fuels such as oil and gas. Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, however, it has now become clear that this dependency endangers not only the climate but also European security.
Might Europe in the future be able to eliminate energy imports altogether? Could it meet its needs exclusively from its own, renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power? A new study by ETH researcher Bryn Pickering, Francesco Lombardi and Stefan Pfenninger, his two co-authors from TU Delft, shows that this is possible. Using a modelling approach that explores alternative technology options and where they are best deployed, the study lists more than 400 cost-effective, carbon-free and self-sufficient European energy system designs.
‘It turns out that there is much more flexibility in how we achieve a green, independent energy system in Europe by 2050 than we once thought,’ Pickering explains. These system designs differ substantially in detail, but they all have one thing in common: they rely on a massive and rapid expansion of fluctuating renewable energy, particularly wind and solar power. The study does not include the option to top up the system with energy from stable, non-fluctuating fossil fuel sources, yet finds there to be sufficient flexibility in a raft of other technologies that convert, store and distribute energy.