EER worked with Third Way on launching Carbon-Free Europe, a new research initiative to inform communities, individuals, and policymakers about the necessary technologies and policies for a net-zero future. In this initial phase, EER detailed five European decarbonization pathways that could meet or exceed the 2030 ambition of Europe's 'Fit for 55' policy package, accelerating the transition away from fossil fuel imports in the near-term, and also meet a net-zero ambition in 2050. We conclude that:
To cost-effectively move away from natural gas in the near-term requires an electrification of heat and, simultaneously, an exit of natural gas from electricity production. This twin challenge means that renewable deployment must accelerate to support both new electricity load and generation currently served by natural gas. This is made even more challenging as generation from coal and nuclear is also reduced.
Europe should consider long-term energy supply portfolios in terms of ultimate resource constraints and avoid any over-emphasis on near-term economics or preferences. The scale of necessary decarbonized energy supplies shouldn’t be underestimated. In many countries, resource deployment hits resource potential constraints. The decisions to extend the licenses of existing nuclear power plants or potentially allow for the construction of new plants should be understood in this context.
Energy supply portfolios rely heavily on the buildout of large new inter-regional transmission and hydrogen pipelines to make decarbonization more cost-effective and feasible. Restricting these flows will make decarbonization much more expensive and challenging. Domestic energy policies are likely to have significant cascading effects on other countries, suggesting the value of coordination. Countries develop vastly different energy supply portfolios determined by their domestic resource availability and existing energy infrastructure.
In all modeled scenarios, significant amounts of thermal electricity capacity in the form of gas, biomass, and nuclear plants were the lowest cost option to support system reliability during periods of high-load and low renewable generation.
The long-term economics of nuclear technology is dependent on effectively integrating with a highly renewable electricity system. This analysis uses a first-of-its-kind approach to represent advanced nuclear reactors. We model flexible operations to store heat, use it for industrial processes (high-temperature electrolysis and direct air capture) or to produce electricity. Representation of nuclear reactors as static baseload generators, as they're used today, underestimates their potential value to decarbonization.
Detailed interactive Tableau results and summary materials are available here.