EU Commission releases long-term look at decarbonization

By Kris Bevill | December 19, 2011

The European Commission recently released a long-sighted roadmap for the continent’s decarbonization plan, exploring possible scenarios that could be deployed to meet the EU’s ambitious goal of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 80 to 95 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. In the report, the commission found that while the goal of almost entirely eliminating carbon from Europe’s energy production sectors is possible, immediate investments and policy decisions are needed now in order to save money in the long-run and achieve a smooth shift toward low-carbon energy sources.

“Transforming the European energy system is imperative for reasons of climate, security and the economy,” the commission stated in its report. “Decisions being taken today are already shaping the energy system of 2050. To make the necessary transformation of the energy system in time, the EU needs much greater political ambition and a greater sense of urgency.”

The roadmap focused primarily on energy generation because that sector is responsible for most of the EU’s GHG emissions, but it was noted that further development of a variety of technologies, including second- and third-generation biofuels, is necessary in order to lower the cost of production and help meet the EU’s overall emissions reduction plan. “Decarbonization will require a large quantity of biomass for heat, electricity and transport,” the commission said in the report. “In transport, a mix of several alternative fuels will be needed to replace oil, with specific requirements of the different modes. Biofuels will probably be a main option for aviation, long-distance road transport, and rail where it cannot be electrified.” The commission noted that efforts are ongoing to ensure the sustainability of biofuels but also recommended the continued use of fuels produced using feedstocks that do not compete with feedstocks grown on land that could be used for food, such as biofuels produced from waste, algae or forest residue.

The commission made several recommendations in its report that appear to echo what renewable energy industry representatives have been saying for years. Of particular interest, the commission noted that by investing in renewable energy infrastructure as replacements are required now, the EU could avoid more costly conversions in the coming decades. “The investments made now will pave the way for the best prices in the future,” the commission stated. “The [temporarily higher] costs will be outweighed by the high level of sustainable investments brought into the European economy, the related local jobs, and the decreased import dependency.” By contrast, the commission pointed out that if current policies are allowed to continue with no active ramp-up to more sustainable forms of energy, prices to consumers will still increase as demand for fossil fuels worldwide drives up the price of petroleum.

The Energy Roadmap 2050  is the last in a series of reports released by the European Commission throughout 2011 with the goal of providing roadmaps forward for each energy sector of the EU. The sector-by-sector reports followed an overall decarbonization roadmap that was released by the commission in March.