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Thursday, February 2, 2012

The European Union’s Energy Policy. II. Emissions Reduction Technologies

Summary:  In March 2011 European Commission issued its Energy Roadmap 2050, directed to reducing its overall emissions of greenhouse gases by 80-95% below the emissions level of 1990 by 2050.  The Roadmap implements a cap-and-trade market mechanism with successively lower greenhouse gas emission caps to provide market incentives to move away from use of fossil fuels that burn to form carbon dioxide, the important greenhouse gas (see the preceding post). 

This post summarizes the greenhouse gas abatement policies and technologies presented in the Roadmap.  The plan relies, among others, on implementing drastic energy efficiency programs, major migration away from use of fossil fuels and toward renewable energy sources, and to the extent that fossil fuels remain in use, carbon capture and storage technology to remove CO2 before it enters the atmosphere.

The Roadmap is the first international agreement put in place that follows the expiration of the Kyoto Protocol at the end of 2012.  It provides comprehensive and detailed considerations of the many factors, technological, economic and policy-based, involved in implementing such a bold endeavor in an international framework.  As such, it provides a useful example for the nations of the world as they negotiate a successor treaty to the expiring Kyoto Protocol.

Introduction.  In March 2011 the European Commission (EC) embarked on a long term program, its Energy Roadmap 2050 (the Roadmap), to reduce its overall emissions of greenhouse gases by 80-95% below the emissions level of 1990 by 2050 (see this earlier post.  This goal was adopted as a follow-up to the earlier European Union program to reduce emissions by 20% by 2020. Additional goals for 2020 include lowering energy consumption in the EU BY 20% compared to reference projections for 2020, and obtaining 20% of the EU’s total energy, and 10% of energy used in transport, from renewable sources. The Roadmap additionally established the interim goals for emissions reductions of about 40% by 2030, and about 60% reduction by 2040.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, established under the United Nations, issued its most recent comprehensive climate report, the 4th Assessment Report, in 2007 .  It determined that an essential objective is to limit the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere such that the resulting global average temperature rise be less than 2ºC (3.6ºF) above the level that prevailed before the industrial revolution began. It states that “deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions are required according to [climate] science” to achieve this objective.  This is because higher global temperatures are predicted to inflict damages from altered weather and climate events; these are already occurring, as evidenced variously by increased aridity, drought, and wildfires; extreme rain and floods; and sea level rise, among other harmful effects, in recent years.  This objective was adopted at the Copenhagen (2009) and Cancun (2010) climate change meetings.  Currently the average global temperature has increased by about 0.75°C (1.4ºF).  Various climate models predict that further global temperatures may increase anywhere from 1.1°C to 6.4°C beyond today’s level.

The previous post detailed the EU’s Emission Trading Scheme (ETS), a cap-and-trade emission reduction program beginning in 2005 to embark on the path to reduce emissions within the member states of the European Union.  The present post summarizes the technologies and policies to be invoked in order to achieve the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions envisioned by the ETS.

Energy Roadmap 2050.  The Roadmap sets out in detail how the EU might achieve its objectives of providing a secure, competitive decarbonized energy economy (see References).  Decarbonization relies critically on implementing a variety of technologies that reduce or avoid emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This post presents a summary of the significant features of the Roadmap.

Various scenarios for achieving the objectives were explored using an EU-wide energy/economic model; the Roadmap at this time does not settle on adopting any particular one or set of them.

For comparison with the decarbonizing scenarios, the Roadmap defines two baseline scenarios.  The Reference scenario incorporates current projections for economic growth and energy use (as of 2010) including reductions in emissions from the first target date of 2020.  The Current Policies Initiative scenario (CPI) updates the Reference scenario primarily by accounting for changing attitudes and policies leading to reduced use of nuclear power in response to the nuclear accident at Fukushima, Japan.

The proposed decarbonizing scenarios to be implemented in providing energy for the EU are:

The High Energy Efficiency scenario implements high efficiency measures in buildings and appliances.  Stringent codes for new construction and appliances will take effect, and, with somewhat greater difficulty, retrofitting of existing structures will be undertaken.  Furthermore, utilities will be obligated to obtain energy savings.  This scenario envisions decreased demand in energy of more than 40% by 2050. 

The Diversified Supply Technologies scenario is based on competitive development of a variety of technologies in a market framework.  Carbon pricing (to be accomplished by the ETS; see the previous post) relies on public acceptance of nuclear power and carbon capture and storage (CCS).

The Delayed CCS scenario is similar to the Diversified scenario except that deployment of CCS technology is delayed.  This leads to a higher proportion of nuclear energy being used.

The Renewable Energy Sources (RES) scenario relies on strong support for developing RES, to a proportion of 75% of total energy, and 97% of electric power, by 2050.

The Low Nuclear scenario resembles the Diversified scenario but assumes no new nuclear power plants are built.  This leads to higher deployment of CCS technologies.

The Roadmap illustrates the proportions of energy that can be provided in 2030 and in 2050 from various sources using the scenarios above in the following graphic.

Gray bars: Ranges of proportional contributions envisioned for the various energy sources in the years shown.  Yellow diamonds: Actual proportions for the various sources in 2005.
Source: European Commission, Ref. 1

Graph 1 shows that renewable energy sources, which in 2005 provided only a small fraction of the EU’s total energy, will grow providing anywhere between about 40% and 60% by 2050 (the text in the Ref. 1 mentions as much as 75%, see above).  The contribution of oil decreases significantly, as does that of solid fuels (e.g., coal).  Nuclear energy is not predicted to grow significantly; indeed it may decrease significantly by 2050.

Major changes in the EU’s energy economy.  The Roadmap is predicated on several significant departures from the current energy economy.

Electric power usage is predicted to grow linearly to about 28% of total energy demand in 2050 even under the Reference or CPI scenarios.  Under the various decarbonization scenarios, however, electricity demand grows significantly to a predicted range of about 36-38%, with the main increase occurring after about 2031.  Electricity generation would have to undergo a significant transformation of its physical plant so that it can be 57-65% decarbonized by 2030, and 96-99% decarbonized by 2050.  Clearly, as seen in the graphic above, RES play a major role in achieving this goal. 

The graphic below illustrates the effects of new technologies on achieving decarbonization by 2050.  Overall energy usage is projected to decrease by

Gross energy consumption 1990-2010 (historical) and 2011-2050 (projected).  Note that the vertical axis begins at 1000 Mtoe (million tons of oil equivalent).  Blue: Reference and CPI scenarios.  Green: Effects of various decarbonization scenarios.
Source: European Commission, Ref. 1.

about 29% by 2050 as a result of deploying decarbonization technologies.

Renewable energy will grow to provide the biggest portion of energy supply by 2050.  The challenge for the EU is to create market incentives that will lead to more economical deployment and sale of power generated from renewable sources. Incentives need to be provided to develop advanced renewable technologies such as ocean energy, concentrated solar power and advanced biofuels.  Even so, it is foreseen that wind energy will be the largest component of RES. In addition energy storage modalities and expanded transmission capabilities will have to be supported.

Carbon capture and storage is a principal technology that permits continued use fossil fuels without contributing to atmospheric CO2 emission.  CCS contributes to greater use of electricity in transport, which today is essentially completely reliant on primary inefficient burning of fossil fuels with their attendant emissions of CO2.  The Roadmap notes the contingent nature of deploying CCS technology.  A recent post has characterized the challenges remaining with CCS.  If commercially implemented, the EC expects CCS to contribute significantly to most scenarios.  For example, in the Low Nuclear scenario up to 32% of power generation would rely on CCS.

The EC earlier had issued a critical assessment of needs for successfully deploying CCS (Ref. 2).  Previous EC documents had already established the need for widespread use of CCS in the EU starting in 2020.  This Impact Assessment (CCS-IA; Ref. 2) addresses how to proceed to demonstrate viable CCS technologies, building on the economic incentives provided by operation of the EU ETS (cap-and-trade market for emission allowances).  The CCS-IA recognizes the critical need, as of its issuance in 2008, to begin demonstration projects for CCS right away in order to have this technology available by 2020.

The CCS-IA stated that in order to meet such a timeline, CCS facilities demonstrating various available technologies (see, for example this previous post) would need to be constructed by 2015, and be operated successfully for the five years leading up to 2020.  It is estimated that 10-12 projects world be needed to exemplify differing technologies and geological features involved.  The technical and economic experience gained at this stage would be used to expand CCS to commercial significance in the following years.  Such expansion, because of the long lead times involved, would have to be started even as the shakedown operation of the demonstration plants was under way. 

The CCS-IA recognized that funding for the demonstrations was not available from the EU, so that Member States and private enterprise would need to fund them at the outset.  In addition, operation of the EU ETS would not provide sufficient carbon pricing to stimulate investment until after 2020, so that there would be significant early-stage funding imbalances.  The CCS-IA notes that carbon pricing in the range of EURO 25-30 (US$32.70-39.20 as of Feb. 1, 2012)/tonneCO2 would approximate a break-even point for investment in CCS.

Energy efficiency in buildings, transport and lifestyles constitutes a major contributor to decarbonizing the energy economy (Energy Efficiency Plan 2011 (EEP); Ref. 4).  The Roadmap envisions that all buildings, including homes, be zero net consumers of energy, and indeed, could produce more energy than they use.  This is readily accomplished for new construction, but should be implemented for existing buildings as well.

The EEP recommends, first, making public buildings more energy efficient, in a campaign called “Leading by Example”.  From 2019, public buildings should be “nearly zero-energy”.  Refurbishing existing buildings should be undertaken at the rate of 3% per year, to attain a level of the best 10% of existing buildings, using energy performance contracting.

The EEP notes that 40% of energy use is in houses, of which two-thirds is for space heating.  It seeks to promote reducing energy consumption in homes by half to three-quarters, and that of appliances by half.  District heating, and combined heat-power systems will be promoted.  Energy service companies promote energy refurbishing by providing financing based on savings in projected energy expenses.  The EEP also promotes measures for energy efficiency in business and industry.  (Previous posts on this blog here and here have also dealt with energy efficiency with reference to the U. S.)

Energy efficiency in transport.  An EU-wide policy of efficiency in transport promotes drastic reductions in use of fossil fuels in most forms of transport (Ref. 5). The plan seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60%.  Important steps include eliminating gasoline-fueled cars in cities by 2050; 40% of aviation fuel to be sustainable by 2050; major expansion of high-speed rail leading to most medium-distance passenger transport being by rail by 2050; and 50% transfer of long-distance road freight to rail and water by 2050.

Enhanced energy efficiency will depend on a change in personal behavior and public attitudes.  This can be facilitated by appropriate policies that place capital for efficiency in hands of the public and the business community.

Fossil fuels are envisioned to continue playing a role in the short to intermediate term.  Coal, when burned, emits the most CO2 per unit of energy obtained among the fossil fuels, about twice as much as natural gas.  If CCS becomes commercially viable, coal could continue to play a role. 

Natural gas is viewed as a source of flexible backup for fluctuating demand unless CCS becomes available for gas-burning technologies.  In that case gas could be considered as a largely renewable energy resource.  CCS, in order to contribute significantly to decarbonization, would have to be commercially viable by about 2030 and expand considerably beyond that date.

Oil is likely to remain an energy source in 2050, especially for use in long distance passenger and freight transport.  The Roadmap suggests that the EU maintain refining capacity in order to preserve its influence in the oil economy.

Nuclear energy is the single largest decarbonized energy source in the EU today.  The Roadmap notes that certain Member States consider the risks involved in nuclear energy to be unacceptable; the frame of mind in Europe has additionally grown more negative after the nuclear accident at the Fukushima facility in 2011.  Costs for ensuring safety, decommissioning aged plants and disposing of nuclear waste are likely to increase.  The EC proposes to maintain policies supporting nuclear energy in those States willing to continue its use.

Carbon pricing through the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, according to the Roadmap, provides the “central pillar of European climate policy”.  It provides a technology-neutral economic environment that stimulates the research, development and deployment (RD&D) of the various new technologies needed to implement the EU’s decarbonized energy economy.  Needs for new capital across the Roadmap are considerable, and the incentives for creating new profits are correspondingly great.  The Roadmap recognizes that private investment will drive much of this RD&D, while understanding that public support for developing certain new technologies, such as electric cars and decarbonizing technologies, may also be needed at the early stages.

Buy-in by the public is crucial to implementing the Roadmap.  Many aspects of life experienced by the population will be affected by deploying new technologies.  Employment opportunities and job requirements will be altered.  The physical environment experienced by the public will change its visual and structural aspects.  Energy pricing mechanisms will change, and for some fiscal support for charges may be needed.  The EU is a convention embracing 27 sovereign states; each will need to accept a greater degree of integration into a trans-European energy infrastructure.


The European Commission’s Energy Roadmap 2050 presents a detailed strategic and logistical path to achieve a reduction of between 80% and 95% in emissions of greenhouse gases, referenced to the level of emissions in 1990, by 2050.  As such it represents the world’s first concrete international program for reduction in emissions of greenhouse gases that progresses beyond the Kyoto Protocol.  Indeed, as a federation of 27 sovereign states, the Roadmap promulgated by the EC must be ratified by all Member States in order to be implemented within their respective borders.  In contrast, the nations of the world, meeting as Conferences of the Parties, most recently in Cancun and Durban have been unable to reach agreement on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol.  Currently, no agreement is anticipated before 2015, which, if successfully concluded, is not expected to enter into force before 2020.  The two nations with the highest emissions of greenhouse gases, China and the U. S., have no policies in place to lower the absolute amount of those emissions.  China emphasizes optimizing its energy intensity while continuing to expand its overall consumption of fossil fuels.  In the U. S., the state of California laudably embarking on an emission reduction program broadly similar to that of the EU’s Roadmap.

The Roadmap sets in motion a market-driven incentive to limit consumption of fossil fuels and promote policies that stimulate the RD&D needed to deploy decarbonizing technologies.  The market incentive originates from its Emissions Trading Scheme, a cap-and-trade mechanism with successively lower annual caps beginning in 2012.  The Roadmap considers in detail the candidate technologies, summarized in this post, that are to provide concrete implementation of various methods to achieve decarbonization of the EU’s energy economy. 

The Roadmap relies heavily on achieving energy efficiency across the energy economy, and on deploying renewable sources of energy to the greatest extent possible.  Nevertheless, use of fossil fuels remains in the picture; the CO2 greenhouse gas resulting from their use is to be abated by CCS.  The Roadmap, and other assessments by agencies outside of Europe, have pointed out that at this time CCS remains a technology unproven at the industrial level required to abate the CO2 emissions envisioned. Indeed, the Roadmap calls for a small number of CCS demonstration projects within the EU to create a knowledge and experience base in time for the need anticipated after about 2020.

The atmospheric concentration of CO2 is increasing inexorably as the nations of the world expand their use of fossil fuels.  This results in ever-higher long-term global average temperatures, which are strongly correlated with extreme weather events that cause major economic and human harms around the world.  We humans have not yet grasped the reality that we must accept the costs of treating CO2 as a waste product our historical energy economy.  The costs of abatement of emissions and adaptation to the higher global temperature already in place have not been accounted for in the price of energy.  And yet we already endure such costs in the form of the expenses of relief efforts and the high insurance benefits incurred from the damages inflicted by extreme weather events.  It behooves all of humanity rather to seek to minimize future damages by embarking on abatement and adaptation measures as soon as possible.


1. Energy Roadmap 2050, European Commission, COM(2011) 885/2; (accessed Jan. 15, 2012); European Commission - Press Release, Energy Roadmap 2050: a secure, competitive and low-carbon energy sector is possible, December 15, 2011; (accessed Jan.16, 2012).

2. Commission Staff Working Document, accompanying document Supporting Early Demonstration of Sustainable Power Generation from Fossil Fuels, Summary Of The Impact Assessment, European Commission, SEC(2008) 48, Jan. 23, 2008; (accessed Jan. 19, 2012).

3. CO2 Capture and Storage, Demonstration Projects, European Energy Programme for Recovery, 2010; (accessed Jan.16, 2012).

4. Energy Efficiency Plan 2011, European Commission, March 8, 2011, COM(2011) 109 final; (accessed Feb. 1, 2012).

5. WHITE PAPER, Roadmap to a Single European Transport Area – Towards a competitive and resource efficient transport system, European Commission, March 28, 2011, COM(2011);  144 final; (accessed Feb. 1, 2012).

© 2012 Henry Auer


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