Wind energy and photovoltaic solar energy integration in Europe?s grid by 2050

In 2050 the electricity produced from intermittent renewable sources (solar energy photovoltaic and wind turbines) could meet 40% of Europe’s electricity needs. Not more than that, though, unless “very costly additional preventive measures aimed at ensuring the stability of the electricity system” were foreseen.

The latter was found in the “Assessment of Required Share for a Stable EU Electricity Supply until 2050” report compiled by Ecorys Nederland on behalf of the Energy Directorate of the EU Commission, drawn up together with the Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands (ECN) and the EU Energy DG itself.

The study considers two types of sources: intermittent (photovoltaic and wind farm) and flexible ones (hydro, gas and oil), only the latter being judged suitable to follow the short grid load variations caused by the former. Thus, all the other renewable sources (including geothermal energy, concentrating solar thermal power with storage systems and biomass), as well as coal and nuclear, are disqualified, all being judged suitable to ensure a base load or a programmed supply.

Therefore, the conclusions don’t apply to renewables, since the input of non-intermittent sources to Europe’s electricity needs could be significant. Indeed, even considering the limited 40% contribution of photovoltaic solar power and wind turbines, the study predicts that renewables with geothermal energy and concentrated solar power could globally account for 80% of electricity needs in 2050, with a 95% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions compared with 1990.

On the other hand, the report emphasized that the chosen energy mix is a political issue, since it originates from the amount of investments that will be made to integrate intermittent sources..

Theoretically speaking, scenarios in which the share of photovoltaic solar energy and wind turbines is higher than 40% may be envisaged. But Ecorys warns that even to reach this amount, 25 billion euros will have to be invested in infrastructure each year at a European level. For this share to increase to 50%, investments should rise to 50 billion or even up to 200 billion in order to grid-integrate 70% of intermittent sources.