Europe can achieve clean power by 2035 at no extra cost

  • London

  • 22 June 2022

Modelling by energy think tank Ember reveals that Europe can achieve a clean, reliable and expanded power system by 2035, with a comparable overall cost to Europe’s current plans for a smaller and more polluting electricity supply. Upgrading the system and quadrupling growth in wind and solar capacity requires an additional upfront investment of €300-750billion. However, ditching expensive fossil fuels in favour of clean electrification will save Europe an estimated €1trillion by 2035, along with numerous benefits to climate, health and energy security.

Scaling clean power is a win-win-win. It will save money, put Europe on track for its climate commitments and reduce its reliance on imported fossil fuels. Europe should invest now for a huge payback by 2035.

Dr Chris Rosslowe Senior Energy Analyst, Ember

The ‘New Generation’ study published today models the entire European electricity system, hour-by-hour and country-by-country. The study’s goal is to find the cheapest pathways to 2050 that are compatible with the Paris Agreement climate goal of limiting global heating to 1.5C. All pathways result in a clean power system by 2035 (95% low-emission, 70-80% wind and solar), backing up research by international bodies including the IPCC and IEA. For the first time, the study gives a detailed plan of how clean power can be achieved across all of Europe by 2035, including the EU27, UK, Norway, Switzerland and the Western Balkans. The report comes ahead of next week’s G7 meeting where leaders are expected to commit to ‘predominantly decarbonised’ electricity by 2035, in the wake of recent national commitments by the US, UK, Canada and Germany.

Wind and solar become the backbone

Across all least-cost pathways modelled, wind and solar provide 70-80% of electricity generation by 2035. To achieve this, annual growth in wind and solar deployment must quadruple compared to the last decade, averaging 100-165 GW per year over 2025-2035. 

  • Solar capacity grows by up to 9 times, reaching as much as 1400 GW
  • Wind capacity quadruples in size by 2035, reaching 800 GW

The modelling shows how clean power systems deliver security of supply even during challenging ‘dunkelflaute’ conditions, where a harsh cold spell coincides with prolonged low wind and solar output. Three key technologies emerge as the cornerstones of flexibility: electricity interconnections double and hydrogen electrolysers hit 200-400GW by 2035, supported by clean dispatchable sources that can be called upon when required (e.g., hydro or low-emission gases). New nuclear capacity is not a feature of least-cost pathways, but the analysis also finds that current expansion plans across Europe do not incur significantly higher system costs.

Minimal role for fossil gas - and coal is quickly gone

The models reveal that coal must be phased out by 2030 and unabated gas reduced to less than 5% of generation by 2035 to make Europe’s power system fit for the Paris Agreement. No large fossil gas plants need to be commissioned beyond those expected by 2025. 

If the full potential of electrification and energy savings can be realised, Europe’s total consumption of fossil fuels would halve by 2030. At the EU level, the modelled clean power pathways represent a greater reduction in fossil fuels than the REPowerEU plan, although they are less targeted at reducing fossil gas.

On wind and solar, the REPowerEU plan moves the EU-27 closer to the modelled pathways to 2035 clean power, but major challenges remain in translating this into European and national policy and deploying the infrastructure on the ground.

It’s time for Europe to roll up its sleeves. Europe has shown it can step up its ambition in the face of the gas crisis and Putin’s fossil-fueled war. It is now required to keep pushing forward, to avert the climate crisis and unlock countless benefits for citizens and businesses.

Charles Moore Europe Lead, Ember

Decarbonising the energy sector now is consistently demonstrated as more cost-effective than sustaining fossil fuels and assuming mitigation measures down the line. Solar is the kingpin of the clean electrification wave, and together with flexible storage and grids, solar can provide reliable electricity at all times – at the lowest levelized cost of electricity of all energy sources.

Walburga Hemetsberger CEO of SolarPower Europe