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LONDON, April 13 (Reuters) - Europe must start overhauling its energy system soon and virtually eradicate carbon-emitting power generation to achieve an 80-percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 at lowest cost, according to a new study.
The report funded by the European Climate Exchange and conducted by consultants and academics says slashing climate warming gas emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels within 40 years is possible with a nearly zero-carbon power supply and existing technologies.
The short term cost of low or zero carbon electricity policies could be higher than the business as usual path, but over time these differences disappear, the report by consultants McKinsey & Company, Imperial College London, Oxford Economics, and the Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands concludes.
“I am encouraged by the main message of the European Climate Foundation that substantial decarbonisation of the EU power sector is both technically and economically feasible by 2050,” European Union Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said at the report launch.
The “Roadmap 2050” study calls on European countries to prioritise energy efficiency, support the rapid roll out of a European “supergrid” and encourage massive investment in low carbon technologies while making a firm commitment to phase out high carbon plants.
“Realizing this radical transformation requires fundamental changes to the energy system. This level of reduction is only possible with a nearly zero-carbon power supply,” the report says.
“Realistically, the 2050 goals will be hard to realize if the transition is not started in earnest within the next five years.”
Some experts have questioned the idea of a power sector free of fossil fuels, saying unpredictable solar and wind energy requires back-up from coal and gas-fired power stations.
But the ECF, which promotes policies aimed at reducing Europe’s global greenhouse gas emissions, says more grid connections between countries — particularly Spain and France — could minimise the need for back up. [ID:nLDE6290LU]
“It was assumed that high-renewable energy scenarios would be too unstable to provide sufficient reliability, that high-renewable scenarios would be uneconomic and more costly, and that technology breakthroughs would be required to move Europe to a zero-carbon power sector,” Matt Phillips of the European Climate Foundation, which funded the study, said.
“Roadmap 2050 has found all of these assertions to be untrue.”
Building the necessary infrastructure will require average annual European capital expenditure of about 52 billion euros ($70.74 billion).
“Essentially we need to double capital expenditure in the electricity sector, and delaying things will make it a lot more expensive,” said the ECF’s Tom Brookes.
Despite the sharp rise in capital expenditure, the impact on consumer electricity prices would be small, thanks to the lower operating costs of renewable energy, the report says.
Reporting by Daniel Fineren and Charlie Dunmore; Editing by Keiron Henderson