Electricity leads the race to net zero

By Kristian Ruby, Secretary General of Eurelectric

The new era of clean energy is initiated with a roaring electric decade. Electricity is the cleanest energy carrier in Europe, and it is set to reach full carbon-neutrality well before 2050. Looking ahead, electrification offers the most cost-effective solution to decarbonise major parts of energy intensive sectors like transport, heating and cooling and industrial applications.

The steep decarbonisation curve set by the Fit for 55% package can lead to a fully carbon neutral power sector within the next 15-20 years, five to ten years earlier than previous projections.

This is no doubt a major challenge, but if any energy carrier can do it, it’s electricity. The sector is decarbonising fast. The Power Barometer, Eurelectric’s annual analysis of the sector, reveals that almost two thirds of the EU’s electricity already come from clean and renewable sources. Solar, wind, hydro, biomass and nuclear generation now cover 65% of the EU’s electricity the mix.

As electricity demand recovers to pre-pandemic levels, clean power sources continue to dominate the electricity mix. We therefore have solid proof that the 2020 figures were not an exception. Clean is on the rise, although still not at a rate we need.

Around 500 GW of additional renewable capacities must be installed by 2030 to meet the Green Deal objectives. This is equivalent to half of the entire European electricity capacity today. Breaking it down by generation type, both wind and solar installations need to double, while other renewables, like hydro and biomass, must significantly up their share as well.

The electricity industry persists in its efforts to replace the most polluting power plants. The investment needed, both in generation and distribution, is not to be ignored, though. Neither is the need to combine the phase-out of fossil fuels and the installation of renewables with developments in storage and flexibility solutions. Another critical factor is the lengthy permit-granting procedures, that often delay the deployment of renewables by as much as six to eight years.

Across the Fit for 55% package, several provisions and incentives strive to remove some of the roadblocks and boost electrification, but more must be done, especially to tackle the permitting lead-times.

Electrification unfastens transport decarbonisation

The race to electrify is on in road transport. Responsible for about a quarter of the EU’s GHG emissions, the Fit for 55% heralded a plan to end the sales of new combustion engine cars by 2035. Automakers are taking serious steps to improve their offerings. And their efforts are bearing fruit, as electric vehicle sales break record after record.

Numerous models of electric vehicles are now available, and improvements on the battery side seem to be curbing range anxiety. Nevertheless, the deployment of charging infrastructure across Europe must mirror this upward trend to reach some 3.5 million points in 2030 – up from 224,000 today.

Vehicle fleets are key to speeding up the electrification of transport. As public authorities and private companies replace their fleets with EVs, benefits on several fronts will follow. First, significant carbon cuts – as fleets emit 50% of road transport’s CO2 emissions. Second, a rapid deployment of charging points along frequently travelled routes, increasing their availability for private users. Third, an affordable second-hand EV market, as fleets refresh on average every five years.

Electrified buildings: decarbonised and energy efficient

An electrified building sector will also be crucial when constructing the path to net zero. Relying heavily on fossil fuels today, buildings consume 40% of the energy used in the EU, emitting over one-third of the overall CO2. With three-quarters of the EU’s building stock being energy inefficient, the need for space heating and cooling is higher. This has a direct impact on consumers’ energy bills.

That needs to change.

With the Renovation Wave, as well as the Fit for 55 % package, the Commission is taking significant steps toward cutting emissions and increasing energy efficiency. More than 35 million buildings, including hospitals, schools and houses, have to renovate to a nearly-zero energy standard between now and 2030.

Electrifying buildings means energy savings and CO2 cuts. Electric heat pumps offer a solid solution. They are five to six times more energy efficient than conventional gas boilers and have a considerably lower CO2 intensity. In 2020, the EU had a total of 15 million installed heat pumps. That figure must triple to achieve the Green Deal ambitions.

The clock is ticking: time to electrify

With the latest IPCC report, scientists issued a clear warning: every tonne of CO2 we send into the atmosphere will increase extreme weather events: wildfires, heatwaves, drought and heavy rainfall. But they have also said that fast action can dampen the worst.

Every EV replacing a fossil-fuelled car, every heat pump installed, every renewable power plant built, can help us stay within the limits of the Paris Agreement. The 2020s must be a decade of doing, a decade where we drive the necessary change. So let’s do it. Let’s electrify now!