100% Renewable energy is possible, the European Energy (R)Evolution

Hi everybody,

In many of our posts we focused our attention to the Germany and the German energiewende, but off course it is important to also look at the bigger/European picture.  Altough the Germans play a leading role in this process is their effort that helpful for the environment if the rest of us just keep on using coal, nuclear energy and other non renewable energy resources?  What can we expect in the future and is a 100% renewable energy production actually possible and feasible?

While researching for information about this topic I found a study composed by Greenpeace and the EREC (the European Renewable Energy Council) about a sustainable EU energy future.  You can find the study here, link, but seen as it it quite a large document I don’t expect you to read it and will try to explain everything as good as possible in the blog.

The study states that a fundamental shift in the way we generate and consume energy is necessary and must be underway within the next 10 years otherwise we will not be able to avert the effects of climate change.  However experts agree that such a switch must happen in a way that economic growth is maintained.  They think that the transition can happen in such a way that it achieves a lot of different positive outcomes.

To achieve this there are 5 key principles we have to keep in mind:

• Implement renewable solutions, especially through decentralised energy systems and grid expansions.  In stead of producing energy on a central location and transporting it across a whole country, we should evolve to an energy production where power and heat are produced close to the point of final use.  This will lower grid loads and energy losses.  Nevertheless the grid will have to be expanded to cope with energy production from offshore wind farms and concentrated solar power.

• Respect the natural limits of the environment.  This is off course a logic principle, otherwise we wouldn’t want to make the same mistake twice.

• Phase out dirty, unsustainable energy sources.  This is a principle we already discussed and agreed upon in one of the previous blogs where we had the debate about nuclear energy.

• Create greater equity in the use of resources.  Everybody should have access to energy, so that the benefits of energy services are available for everybody, north and south, rich and poor.

• Decouple economic growth from the consumption of fossil fuels.  The experts propose to phase out fossil fuels by the end of this century

With this principles in mind how can we acchieve this goal?  The study proposes a 3 step implementation

Step 1: Energy efficiency and equity

The efficiency in the use of energy must be increased and this in three sectors: industry, transport and domestic/business.  The basic philosophy is intelligent use, not abstinence.  The most important savings would be acchieved by better isolation and building design, super efficient electrical machines and drives, renewable heat production (such as solar collectors) and a reduction in energy consumption by vehicles used for goods and passenger traffic.

Step 2: The renewable energy (r)evolution: decentralised energy and large scale renewables.

Decentralised energy is generated closer to the consumer and uses a local distribution network rather than a high voltage distribution network.  Because electricity generation is closer to consumers, any waste heat from for instance combustion processes can be piped to nearby buildings.  This means that more of the input energy is used, not just a fraction.

Step 3: optimised integration, renewables 24/7

A complete transformation of the energy system will be necessary to accommodate the significantly higher shares of renewable energy.  Nowadays renewable energy is seen as an extra in the energy mix and it has to adapt to the operating conditions of the grid. When this ratio changes and renewable energy becomes more important the grid will have to be adapted to accommodate for this change.  One of the solutions will be the use of smart grids where the grid has to be flexible enough to follow the fluctuations of the variable renewable power, for example by adjusting demand via demand-side management and/or deploying storage systems.

What would be the key results?

There is a whole list of expected results given in the study, I will only highlight some of them.

They expect to achieve an energy demand that is 35% lower in 2050 in comparison to today’s energy demand.  This shows the amazing potential for improvement there is in the way we use electricity.

Electricity generation of renewables is aimed to reach 1,480 GW by 2050.

The cost of electricity will be slightly higher but this difference will be less than 0.7 €cents/kWh up to 2020 in comparison to the reference scenario (a scenario that only takes in to account the existing international energy and environmental policies, so this is the scenerio that would happen if we wouldn’t change anything) that they use in the study.  However if you account for the lower CO2 intensity of the electricity production the costs will be 4.8 €cents/kWh below those in the reference version.

CO2 emissions decrease by 95%, in comparison to a 10% decrease in the reference scenario.

I know that this is only a (very) small summary of the study, but the point I want to make with this blog is that renewable energy is more than an extra in our current energy production.  It offers numerous possibility’s and is in fact an evolution that can completely change the way we live and the way we use electricity.

Thank you for reading and if there are things that aren’t clear for you, don’t hesitate to ask!


Picture to answer a question posed in the reply’s

Schermafbeelding 2013-04-10 om 13.20.34


14 thoughts on “100% Renewable energy is possible, the European Energy (R)Evolution

  1. gabuglio says:

    Hi Bram,

    Interesting post but I myself do not believe, even in the future, that the world can run only on green or renewable energy so I have some critical question.

    – You state that power and heat has to be produced close to the point of final use so there will be no or limited transportation.
    But I imagine that in a lot of cases or cities this is nog possible. What to do about that? And what will happen with the already existing grid?

    – Are there really enough natural resources (yet) to provide the whole world of renewable energy? That’s my biggest issue to believe.

    – In your blog you write about equity of resources. Do you mean equity between the people or equity between countries? Because my logic is that a country that produces more or is more prosperous needs more energy?

    – In you key results you say that the energy demand will lower with 35% in 2050. On what statistics is this assumption base? And do you believe this is achievable?

    To just summarize my thoughts: I can’t imagine that we can run teh world only by our plants, the sun, the wind,… Maybe I can imagine that renewable energy will be more than an extra addition but I am not convinced that it can be the only energy source.

    • deckersbram says:

      “You state that power and heat has to be produced close to the point of final use so there will be no or limited transportation.
      But I imagine that in a lot of cases or cities this is nog possible. What to do about that? And what will happen with the already existing grid?”

      As we learned from the energiewende the use of renewable energy resources puts a lot of stress on the grid. This is caused by the changing levels of supplied electricity (sometimes a lot, sometimes nothing). The current grid will have to be adapted to cope with this fact. This means that the supply and the demand will have to be matched better. This is possible with the use of a smart grid, a simple example of this could be:

      Imagine you want to do your laundry. Nowadays you just put your clothes in the washing machine and turn it on. You can do this in the middle of the day or in the evening or whenever you want to. When using smartgrids we could evolve to a following system where you put your clothes in the washing machine and you program in the machine when you want your clothes to be washed. For instance I want my clothes to be washed before tomorrow morning. The smartgrid will select the time when it is most beneficial for you to turn on your washing machine. This is when the supply of energy is high and the demand for energy is rather low so probably in the middle of the night. In this case the price of energy will be lower than when the demand for energy is high. So by implementing a system like this one you save money and the supply and demand of energy are better matched.

      Ofcourse one washing machine doesn’t make a difference in the energy demand of an entire country but you should imagine a system where every appliance is plugged into this system.

      What I think they mean by a production closer to home is not really that every city has it’s own wind farm but that more energy is harvested inside the city. For instance with solar panels, solar thermal collectors, … I have a picture that I think will explain what they mean by this. I will put it at the end of the blog because I can’t add pictures to a reply.

    • deckersbram says:

      “In you key results you say that the energy demand will lower with 35% in 2050. On what statistics is this assumption base? And do you believe this is achievable?”

      I think this is based on the assumption that there is a huge potential to increase the efficiency of appliances, decrease losses of transport and other losses, using the waste heat from (industrial) processes to warm houses, ultra efficient electric cars, …

      Personally I have not studied the case and I can believe that the researchers have adopted a best case scenario to acchieve the 35%. But I think when you look at the way we use energy today there is lots of potential to use it more efficiently, for instance by reusing the heat generated in some processes.

    • deckersbram says:

      “In your blog you write about equity of resources. Do you mean equity between the people or equity between countries? Because my logic is that a country that produces more or is more prosperous needs more energy?”

      This is what the study says about this principle:

      As long as there are natural limits there needs to be a fair distribution of benefits and costs within societies, between nations and between present and future generations. At one extreme, a third of the world’s population has no access to electricity, whilst the most industrialised countries consume much more than their fair share. The effects of climate change on the poorest communities are exacerbated by massive global energy inequality. If we are to address climate change, one of the principles must be equity and fairness, so that the benefits of energy services – such as light, heat, power and transport – are available for all: north and south, rich and poor. Only in this way can we create true energy security, as well as the conditions for genuine human wellbeing.
      The global Energy [R]evolution scenario has a target to achieve energy equity as soon as technically possible. By 2050 the average per capita emission should be between 0.5 and 1 tonne of CO2.

      I think they don’t mean that every country should “get” the same amount of energy but that energy should be available for everybody and not only for the rich industrialized country’s. Global warming and climate change are a global problem, it would be stupid to only look at ourselves while the rest of the world keeps on using oil, coal, … We should help them make the transition together with us. I believe that that is a bit what Korneel and Wout are doing by developing a low cost solar boiler.

  2. tijlcrauwels says:

    To have power produced close to point of final use would be easier for cities than for houses in low densed areas. With this I mean, you can place a small energyplant near a city, and the furthest it would have to travel is the diagonal of this city, which in terms of distance is often very small. Compared to travelling an entire country, or being imported from France in Belgiums case

    As for there being enough natural resources to provide for the whole world. Just a small example of wikipedia:

    “The total solar energy absorbed by Earth’s atmosphere, oceans and land masses is approximately 3,850,000 exajoules (EJ) per year.[8] In 2002, this was more energy in one hour than the world used in one year.”

    So when harvested correctly, only the sun could provide for our entire energy need. Ofcourse this is a ridiculous comparison, but this shows that when harvested correctly and efficiently, it is possible. Not looking at the cost etc.

    The main problem will be economical, the price of energy will rise, and this is the biggest reason that there’s so little energy gathered from renewable sources. Oil and gas are too cheap, but once they get more scarce, this will equal itself out and the ‘renewable (r)evolution’ will start completely.

    • woutcordeel says:

      I agree that small powerplant near a city should be ideal but which kind of renewable energy is efficient and COMPACT at the same time to produce the requested amount of energy? Because in my opinion there is little space left near a city to produce this amount.

      • tijlcrauwels says:

        In my opinion you should start with covering most (if not every) rooftop with solar pannels, create more efficient energy consuming ways, etc. Then you will have additional energy needed in cities, where the population is too dense. For this you will need efficiently places ‘powerPARKS’.

        The wording of ‘powerplant’ was perhaps wrong, as it won’t be as centralised and will be a sum of different sources. Knowing where the largest populations are, in the cities, you can anticipate and place the wind and solar parks as close by as you can. In a lot of cases when you are 20km outside of the city borders, you got greener areas where you could place these parks.

        As for central europe it might not be 100% possible, or will be much harder in any case, because of the high population density. Probable partial transfers will be needed from less densed areas, sea etc.

        Ofcourse achieving this will lead to enourmous challenges, protests, etc. But like trying to achieve a more equal divided world, this should also be obligatory.

      • deckersbram says:

        I would like to add to tijl’s response that you don’t need to see the pv pannels as they look right now. You need to keep in mind that the technology keeps on improving and the pannels will become more flexible in use and thus easier and nicer in an architectural way to implement not only on rooftops but also on building facades, … You can also see that on the picture I added on the end of the blog.

  3. tijlcrauwels says:

    Further calculations show that if the earth receives as much energy in one hour, than it consumes in one year. We would have to harvest 0.0114% of the total energy the earth receives from the sun. (100 percent / ( 24 hours x 365 days ). Looking at that number my only question is, why hasn’t this happened yet ;).

    • That’s true but I want to remark two things here. Loss is a natural phenomenon, you can’t have 100% percent efficiency, never! If you reach an efficiency of 40% than you have done a very good job! Secondly, the surface to collect energy is limited.

      • deckersbram says:

        I think it is more a reference to what the potential can be not a serious idea seen as harvesting all energy will indeed be impossible and not such a smart idea when you think about nature,…

      • jefhimself says:

        A light bulb can easily have an efficiency of 70%, if you use it for heating. 😉

        That’s not just a dumb joke, I also have a point to make… The efficiency you can attain, depends on how you define your system and what you consider to be the output and input. I think that’s important, because a lot of systems (in general, i.e. from a thermochemical perspective) are still designed in a way that doesn’t look at whether or not their waste can be put to use. The fuel production discussed in the algae fuel video I posted before, is probably arguably very efficienty.

    • jefhimself says:

      Some googling:
      – Energy absorbed by the atmosphere is useless in this discussion, and about 24%
      – 29% of the earths surface is land. I have a feeling we shouldn’t put solar panels over the water.
      – 30% of that land is forests
      – 40% is used for agriculture
      – 25% is permafrost, probably also shouldn’t mess with that

      If you cover the entire surface that’s left with 15% efficiency solar panels, then the remaining energy of the quoted number is:


      Which is about 15 times the amount we’d need to harvest. Or, about 7% of all of the land surface I didn’t exclude covered in solar panels, globally…

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