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Can a renewable revolution prevent an energy crisis

Thursday 20 May 2010
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Some remain unconvinced renewables can prevent an energy crisis, but European work suggests a brave new alternative for tomorrow’s power. Giles Crosse takes a peep.

When it comes to really upping the game, concepts that are overarching in scope and prepared to take a bold approach often stand the best shot at making a difference.

The EU’s Roadmap 2050 seems to fit these criteria. It seeks to ‘provide a practical, independent and objective analysis of pathways to achieve a low-carbon economy in Europe, in line with the energy security, environmental and economic goals of the European Union.’

There’s nothing hugely radical about either the tone or the aspirations of this statement. After all, we’ve heard many politicians spouting rhetoric about their desires for wind farms or solar arrays, only see such projects crushed by short term budgeting and a lack of long term will.

What may prove different about Roadmap 2050 is it seeks to realign an entire grid across Europe. By so doing, it’s possible to alleviate the power shortages or inefficiencies in certain areas.

So if it’s winter, there’s less solar, but there are some pretty huge waves and wind out there. Just combine all of this, and share both strengths and advantages EU wide.

There are some nice touches too – a map that paints a picture of new areas with names like ‘Solaria’ in the Mediterranean, ‘Isles of Wind’ or ‘Tidal States’ around the UK. It’s a dream that might see Parisian energy provided by the Saharan sun, contributing to a grid including other new regions like ‘Geothermalia’. There’s some pretty fascinating thinking going on.

Dream or fiction?

In practical terms, the Roadmap 2050 project has been put together by the European Climate Foundation (ECF), and has been further helped by a consortium of experts funded by the ECF.

These include the Office of Metropolitan Architecture (OMA). This is headed up by Rem Koolhaas, while Reinier de Graaf acted as partner in charge. The whole idea comes from OMA’s forward thinking ideals in terms of sustainable development, contributing to a graphic narrative illustrating potential paths forward.

According to the OMA web portal, ‘The project is based on European leaders’ commitment to an 80-95 percent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050.’ To achieve this, OMA suggests that ‘through the complete integration and synchronization of the EU’s energy infrastructure, Europe can take maximum advantage of its geographic diversity.’

‘By 2050, the simultaneous presence of various renewable energy sources within the EU can create a complementary system of energy provision ensuring energy security for future generations.’

Reinier de Graaf, OMA’s partner in charge of the project, said: “In our profession there is a lot of talk about sustainability, but it is generally only deals with the scale of buildings. This project allows us to address the issue at an entirely different scale. In the end, the planning of a trans-national renewable energy grid has a much larger impact and more widely shared benefits.”

OMA, rather wisely, chooses to embrace rather than ignore the lessons of history. The logic is that technologies like steam, railroads and IT were met with initial scepticism on their inception, but have grown to become global phenomena.

In the same way, suggests the organisation, there are ‘striking similarities’ between the uptake, growth and potential of these innovations and the position of renewable energy in today’s environment.

OMA has some experience in the area. Back in 2008, it worked on Zeekracht, an idea for a new renewables infrastructure in the North Sea.

This plan would ‘include an Energy Super-Ring of offshore wind farms – the main infrastructure for energy supply, efficient distribution, and strategic growth; the Production Belt – the on-land industrial and institutional infrastructure supporting manufacturing and research; the Reefs – integrating ecology and industry by stimulating existing marine life alongside wind turbines and other installations; and an International Research Centre – promoting cooperation, innovation and shared scientific development.’

Such ideas represent the concept of ‘multi dimensional’ approaches to power provision, that can really make the most of the resources on offer. It’s a mindset that matches up well with sustainability; set up a series of linked initiatives that benefit from each other and maximise outputs while protecting resources.

Black and White

The Roadmap was actually launched in Brussels on April 13, 2010, and technical analysis from Imperial College London, KEMA, Oxford Economics and McKinsey & Company and policy analysis by E3G and the Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands (ECN) all suggests it could actually work.

‘Roadmap 2050 looks at the economic, service reliability, infrastructure, energy security and policy implications of the European power system in 2050 in four decarbonised scenarios.’ explains http://www.roadmap2050.eu/ ‘The pathways do not rely on imported electricity and are based on existing or late stage development technologies including renewables such as solar, wind, biomass, geothermal and also non-renewable low-carbon resources such as carbon capture and storage (CCS) and nuclear’ None of this is going to be easy though. ‘Action before 2015 is a prerequisite for decarbonisation by 2050.’ Immediate steps and movement will be required.

‘Energy Efficiency measures, creating cost savings and reducing demand. Investments in regional networks and local smart grids and coordination of power market operations among member states, maximizing the value of low-carbon investments and minimizing back-up supply and loadbalancing requirements. Market reform to ensure an effective long term investment case for business.’ warns http://www.roadmap2050.eu/

“In the wake of the Copenhagen climate conference, the international negotiations seem to be locked in a global prisoners’ dilemma. Building trust has repeatedly proven to be the only way out of those quagmires. The ‘Roadmap 2050’ impressively illustrates an exemplary and attractive pathway for the European Union,” advises Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber CBE, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

‘Achieving at least 80 per cent greenhouse gas reductions in 2050 based on zero carbon power generation in Europe is technically feasible and fully reliable, including pathways based on very high contributions from renewables, and makes compelling economic sense.’ suggests http://www.roadmap2050.eu/

Euro evolution

It may be that much is going to change. The Technical Analysis to Roadmap 2050 estimates: ‘The transition requires about € 7 trillion of investment over the next forty years in new energy efficiency measures, clean technology and new infrastructure.’

‘The new technology investments could create between 300,000 and 500,000 jobs. About 250,000 jobs could be at stake in the fossil fuel industry. Clean tech investments could provide a €25 billion annual export market over the first decade, depending on whether Europe can reach and maintain a leading position.’ Whether EU politicians have the stomach for such challenging moves remains to be seen, but these are the same men who set the targets that led to the development of the idea in the first place. Perhaps, for once, they can follow through on their promise.

What are your views?  Not sure? Read the resources below for more information. Add your comment below. We welcome your thoughts and proposals. Not a Planetary Citizen? Sign up  to Our Future Planet today!


European Climate Foundation - ROADMAP 2050: A Practical guide to a prosperous low-carbon Europe

Project Summary 
Brief on Energy Efficiency 
Policy conclusions 
Brief on Macro-Economics 
Press Briefing - Landmark Energy Report Paves Way for Zero Carbon Power 
Press Pack 
Volume I: technical and economic assessment 
Volume 2: Policy Recommendations



Comments (1)Add Comment
May 31, 2010
Votes: +0

Very interesting material but I'm curious about why it proposes a big expansion of nuclear power. One of the scenarios shows a large part of German energy production being nuclear in 2050 despite the fact the German government's policy is to phase it out (unless this has recently changed?).

Germany is backing the DESERTEC initiative which already had documents describing a European supergrid interconnecting a range of renewables 3 or more years ago, and now has a powerful industrial group implementing the plan. DESERTEC started as an initiative of the Club of Rome whose environmental credentials go back to their ground breaking work in the late 1960s culminating in the release of 'The Limits to Growth' in 1972.

It would be really nice to have a full article on DESERTEC on the OFP site to complement the above - there is a mass of material and videos available - see video here: http://www.desertec.org/en/foundation/ and extensive studies by Germany's equivalent of NASA downloadable from here: http://www.desertec.org/en/concept/studies/

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