A SuperSmart energy system can ensure an economically competitive transition towards sustainability for a European Energy Union

New research from LUT University suggests that a combination of decentralised renewable energy (RE) generation and pan-European energy trade can provide an optimal pathway to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement while also addressing key obstacles for a functional European Energy Union.

"A SuperSmart approach respects the unique contributions that different regions of Europe can make while adhering to a clearly defined target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050" argues Michael Child, LUT researcher and lead author of "Flexible electricity generation, grid exchange and storage for the transition to a 100% renewable energy system in Europe", recently published in the journal Renewable Energy

The work was coordinated by Professor Christian Breyer of the LUT Solar Economy group and included discussion on European energy policy by Professor Claudia Kemfert from the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) and Hertie School of Governance in Berlin. Two scenarios were created: one with 20 regions of Europe acting as independent energy ‘islands', and another with power interconnections between the regions. Results confirmed that Europe can be "Stronger Together".

 "The results clearly show that the least cost solution is based on domestic and decentralised supply with cross-border trade, as this reduces the total electricity system cost from 69 €/MWh in 2015 to 51 €/MWh in 2050 " highlights Christian Breyer. "A substantial economic benefit through cross-border trade is worth 26 b€ per year, by trading only 12% of total end user electricity demand in Europe", Breyer continues.

Super vs. Smart Grids and Policy

There is healthy debate around two key issues affecting a European Energy Union. The first is technological. Some advocate the decentralisation of energy, called the Smart Grid approach. Others envision a centralised and regulated system, called the Super Grid approach. The second concerns policy. While there is a need to respect the wishes of all Member States, there is also a need for strong central governance.

SuperSmart approach can be an optimal solution for Europe, both technologically and in terms of policy

- Michael Child, LUT University

"The results of our modelling and analysis of policy instruments suggest that a compromise between the two extremes, or a SuperSmart approach, can be an optimal solution to both problems" states Michael Child. Both technologically and in terms of energy and climate policy, Europe must be viewed not only from the top-down, but national and regional contexts must be properly considered.

"Important are the framework conditions that Europe must set so that the share of renewables can grow rapidly. Every country should move as quickly as possible towards a full supply of renewables" states co-author Claudia Kemfert. The study shows that the switch to a full supply by renewables is not only possible, but also strengthens the economy and generates innovations and technological advantages.

Advancing research on the European energy system transition

This study takes into account important elements of the European power sector in manners that are not always included in modelling studies. First, prosumers (or those who both produce and consume energy) may have an impact on the amount of energy that flows through a centralised grid. Up to 6% less peak interconnection capacity would be needed when considering these impacts, leading to lower costs.

Flexible generation, interconnections and energy storage are shown to lead to reliable, affordable and sustainable power. Flexible generation can be achieved by moderately increased levels of hydropower, dispatchable bioenergy and sustainable gas-based generation. Interconnections, up to four times current European levels, can reduce the need for generation and storage capacities by exploiting the natural complementarities between solar PV generation in the south, and wind generation in the northwest that result in lower overall variability. Meanwhile, energy storage can be expanded significantly, with batteries primarily supplying short-term storage, and other technologies providing seasonal balance.

This study joins a growing body of scientific literature that confirms that an economically viable transition towards sustainability can be achieved in Europe. To accomplish such a transition, however, policy and support instruments should be chosen that work best at a regional level while still adhering to the clearly defined goals of a European Energy Union.

 

Further information:

Michael Child, Dr. Sc. (Tech.), LUT University, +358 50 467 6898, michael.child@lut.fi

Christian Breyer, Professor, LUT  University, +358 50 443 1929, christian.breyer@lut.fi

Claudia Kemfert, Professor, German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), +49 30 8978 9663, sekretariat-evu@diw.de

 

Publication (open access):

Flexible electricity generation, grid exchange and storage for the transition to a 100% renewable energy system in Europe