Electrifying Europe with wind energy may lead to net zero emissions

Electrification is the most cost-effective way to decarbonise Europe’s economy by 2050, a report from ETIPWind and WindEurope shows.

According to the report released on June 8, half of the Europe’s electricity will come from wind energy by 2050. With the right investments in grids and technology, the combined rate of direct and indirect electrification will be 75% of Europe’s energy demand, WindEurope said in a press release, adding that with further cost reductions in wind energy, a net-zero energy system will cost no more than Europe’s energy system costs today.

“Wind energy can help electrify 75% of Europe’s energy demand and thereby deliver climate neutrality by 2050,” ETIPWind Chairman Adrian Timbus said. “But we must prioritise the development of the necessary technologies: next generation onshore and offshore turbines, electrification solutions for transport and for industry, and electrolysers for renewable hydrogen.”

According to WindEurope, most sectors of the economy can electrify their power and heating needs with established and commercially available technologies. Industry could directly electrify 76% of heat and power. For higher rates of electrification, new technologies such as e-crackers will be needed. Some industries, including textiles, non-ferrous metals, ceramics, glass, food, paper and pulp, will even reach 100% electrification. Other industrial sectors such as cement, chemicals, steel, and refineries are harder to electrify. They will need a combination of direct electrification and the substitution of fossil fuel feedstocks with renewable hydrogen and its derivatives.

Direct electrification will be the preferred decarbonisation solution for individual road transport, short distance shipping and rail. It will also play a role in commercial road transport, WindEurope said. The report estimates that electric vehicles will make up 50% of the passenger vehicle fleet in the late 2020s and 50% of the commercial vehicle fleet by 2031. Heat pumps will be the key driver in electrifying the building sector.

But WindEurope argued that Europe will struggle to make the necessary progress in electrifying mobility and heating without the right regulatory frameworks and incentives. Europe also needs to build charging infrastructure and refuelling stations for EVs and fuel cell trucks. Combining charging infrastructure and wind energy deployment will potentially lead to significant savings on grid investments and congestion management. The report also calls for sectoral CO2-reduction targets, an effective carbon pricing mechanism for mobility and heating and a ban on internal combustion engine sales by 2040.

WindEurope CEO Giles Dickson stressed that the EU must “ruthlessly prioritise” future-proof technologies if it wants to be climate-neutral by 2050. “We’ve less than 30 years to build a net-zero energy system. The technologies for direct electrification and renewable hydrogen production are here. Now we need the right regulations to scale them up. The EU ETS, Energy Taxation Directive and State Aid Guidelines can unlock significant investments with the right tweaks in the Fit-for-55 package,” he said. “We’ve got to sort out the permitting. Contracts-for-Difference and technology-specific auctions will also play a crucial role. And energy consumers need to be able to combine them with corporate PPAs. Industrial consumers are knocking at our door, wanting to decarbonise with wind. Let’s make it a demand-driven energy transition,” Dickson added.

The report expects onshore wind to have average costs of €33/MWh by 2030. That’s a cost reduction of 28% compared to today. Offshore wind costs will fall by 44% to €48/MWh and floating offshore wind costs by 65% to €64/MWh over the same period. The report expects bottom-fixed and floating offshore wind costs to converge by 2040 at between €30/MWh and €50/MWh.

Vestas Senior Vice President Innovation & Concepts Bo Svoldgaard said wind energy will be at the core of the future energy system. “It is already the most cost-effective power generation source. With further technology improvements and better permitting procedures wind energy will become the number 1 source of electricity soon after 2025,” he said.

Shell Renewables & Energy Solutions Executive Vice President Elisabeth Brinton said the report highlights the critical role offshore wind will play in helping the EU reach its 2050 climate neutrality targets. “Getting there will mean policy and technological solutions that shape the energy system as a whole, building stronger links across multiple energy carriers, infrastructures and consumption sectors,” she said.

Orsted Senior Vice President Rasmus Errboe said Europe needs an energy infrastructure masterplan that can deliver on its decarbonisation ambitions in less than three decades time. “We need to double investments in on- and offshore electricity grids and accommodate the build-out of renewable hydrogen. And offshore hybrid power plants will be key to unlocking wind’s full potential,” he said, adding that a net-zero system needs to provide more flexibility to integrate large shares of renewables.

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