The Road to Climate Neutrality by 2050

The Road to Climate Neutrality by 2050

The EU has endorsed the ambitious objective of achieving climate neutrality, that is, net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, by 2050. An energy transition is necessary to achieve this objective. A report prepared for the ECR (European Conservatives and Reformists) Group and Renew Europe presents the results of a study that examines three key issues to the EU climate neutrality’s ambition:

  1. The effect of EU climate neutrality on the average global atmospheric temperature by 2050 and 2100;
  2. The spatial (land and sea) requirements for wind and solar energy versus nuclear energy in the Czech Republic and The Netherlands; and 
  3. The cost of wind and solar energy and of nuclear energy for these two countries.

In addition, related issues such as the EU’s climate and energy policies are analyzed.

1. Effectiveness of EU Climate Neutrality

EU 2050 climate neutrality, if achieved, will likely cause only a very small decrease in the global average atmospheric temperature increase. Relative to current policies, 2050 EU carbon neutrality will add no more than between 0.02 and 0.06ºC average temperature reduction in 2050 and between 0.05 and 0.15ºC in 2100, if no carbon leakage occurs, which the EU cannot prevent.

For the EU to achieve carbon neutrality in 2050, it must begin now deploying renewable energy at a rate at least four to seven times higher than the average rate over the last 12 years. Even if the EU can do so over three decades, there still is a very high likelihood that other countries will not limit their emissions, thus frustrating the EU’s efforts.

To exclude this unfortunate outcome, the EU would have to curb also carbon emissions from outside EU territory. A relatively certain way for the EU to prevent carbon dioxide emissions in the rest of the world would be acquiring the current estimated reserves of fossil fuels. Such a purchasing program would impose a minimum cost of €560,000.00 per household, or a total expense of €109,200,000,000,000, which is approximately seven times the entire EU’s annual GDP and thus would be prohibitively expensive. This number not only gives us an idea of the economic value of fossil fuels but also shows that a sure way to prevent the EU’s climate neutrality efforts from being futile is unrealistic. Put differently, the enormous cost of buying up all fossil fuels casts doubt over the practicality of EU climate neutrality policy.

2. ‘No regrets’ solutions 

In short, EU climate neutrality is an ideal that may never become reality in our interdependent world. The reality is that the EU cannot limit emissions in the whole world.

The likely ineffectiveness of the EU climate neutrality program gives policymakers a good reason to consider space- and cost-effective ‘no regrets’ solutions, such as nuclear power. Nuclear power could also play a role in the evolving hydrogen technology, which is another part of the EU’s climate neutrality strategy. 

3. Land Use and Spatial Requirements of Wind, Solar, and Nuclear Energy

This study analyses and compares two climate-neutral power-generating technologies that can result in the decarbonization of the electricity system – wind or solar and nuclear. We assess the amount of space necessary for each technology to deliver the power required, and the costs of the power thus generated. This analysis has been done for two EU member states: the Netherlands, a country along the North Sea with abundant wind, and the Czech Republic, a landlocked country with no access to sea and less wind.

We found that the amount of space required to provide annually 3000 PJ (petajoule) of power (which is approximately the current use) in The Netherlands by wind or solar power in 2050 would range from 24,538 to 68,482 km2. To put this in perspective:

  • 24,538 km2 is roughly the size of the five largest provinces of The Netherlands combined (Friesland, Gelderland, Noord-Brabant, Noord-Holland, and Overijssel); and 
  • 68,482 km2 corresponds to about 1.8 times the entire land territory of The Netherlands.  

To generate the same amount of energy, nuclear power would require, on average, no more than 120 km2, which is less than half the size of the city of Rotterdam. Thus, due to their low power density, wind energy requires at least 266 (offshore) to 534 (onshore) times more land and space than nuclear to generate an equal amount of electricity; for solar on land, at least 148 times more land is required (disregarding, in all cases, the additional land required for the necessary network expansion and energy storage or conversion solutions). 

For the Czech Republic, the amount of space required to generate 1,800 PJ (approximately the current use) by wind and solar would range from 14,630 km2 to 43,758 km2. To put that into perspective, that covers 19% and 55% of the Czech Republic’s available land. Achieving the same level of electricity output with nuclear power would require no more than 269 km2.

4. Generation Cost of Wind, Solar, and Nuclear Energy

The generation cost of nuclear is generally lower than the cost of wind or solar, in most scenarios by a significant margin. In the best-case scenario for wind or solar, the cost of nuclear is still slightly lower. In the worst-case scenario for wind or solar, nuclear costs only one-fourth as much as wind or solar.

For an average Czech household, this means an annual electricity bill that is at least €50 more expensive for wind and solar compared to nuclear; for the Dutch, it implies an annual electricity bill that is at least €165 more expensive for wind and solar compared to nuclear. 

In reality, the cost of wind and solar is even higher because the renewable technologies require other expenses to bring the power where it is needed and to maintain the integrity of the electricity system (so-called integration- and system-related costs). Based on Energy Transition Modeling (ETM) for The Netherlands, we found additional costs for wind and solar at levels of up to 18%, further deteriorating the economic case for wind/solar.  

WACC: Weighted Average Cost of Capital (represents the weighted average of the expected returns to all investors who invested in a project)

5. Policy Recommendations

In pursuit of its climate neutrality ambition, the EU needs to end the unjustified discrimination of power generation technologies and create a technology-neutral level playing field for decarbonized power generation technologies. 

To this end, the EU can adopt a ‘Nuclear Renaissance’ program that places nuclear energy on equal footing with renewable energy. An unambiguous choice for the nuclear power option would meet the EU policy objectives of energy security, affordability, and social acceptability. EU energy policy-making, however, should also consider the impacts of various power generation technologies on other EU policies and interests, such as environmental and health policies. In many areas, nuclear energy would appear to perform well relative to renewable energy.

The full study report, which provides 12 policy recommendations for a ‘Nuclear Renaissance’ program, can be downloaded at www.roadtoclimateneutrality.eu 

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