Is this the report that changes Europe’s power sector forever?

The European Climate Foundation’s Roadmap 2050 report, co-authored by McKinsey & Company, KEMA and Imperial College London, finds that the decarbonization of Europe’s power sector is not only technically feasible, but economically compelling. With the European Commission set to publish its own 2050 low carbon plan early next year, Roadmap 2050 could be one of the most influential reports ever published.

It is not the first low carbon roadmap to be published of late, but last month’s Roadmap 2050: A practical guide to a prosperous low-carbon Europe could be the most influential of them all.

Source: OMA

The report, published by the European Climate Foundation (ECF) and co-authored by, among others, management consultants McKinsey & Co., Dutch energy consultancy KEMA and Imperial College London, is explored in greater depth elsewhere in this issue (Roadmap 2050: McKinsey and company lay down the low-carbon gauntlet to the EU, page 22), but the gist of it is the decarbonization of Europe’s power sector is technically feasible and cost-effective.

This extensive, beautifully-produced report could be described as ‘eco-pornography’, such is the quality and ambition of its images (see above for an example), designed by the Office for Metropolitan Architecture, the Rotterdam-based architects responsible for the Seattle Central Library, Dubai’s Waterfront City and China’s Shenzhen Stock Exchange. Among the hundreds present at the Brussels launch, there was a tangible enthusiasm for the report, and a feeling all that lobbying by environmental pressure groups and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) had paid off.

This is because Roadmap 2050 is not just another report full of nice but impractical ideas drawn up by idealistic organizations. The report has the full backing of virtually the entire power industry and the European Commission, and it could play a big role in the Commission’s own ‘Roadmap for a low carbon energy system by 2050’, which is due to be published in early 2011.

The European Commission is scheduled to have a busy eighteen months. By the end of the year it will have completed an ‘Energy Infrastructure Package’, which will incorporate a communiqué on energy infrastructure development and financing for the 2020-230 horizon, a working paper on energy infrastructure, a communiqué for a 2020-2030 blueprint for offshore grids in the northern seas of Europe, and a report on the state of play of smart grids.

By the end of 2011, the Commission will also issue a proposal on regulating wholesale electricity markets as well as a revised Energy Efficiency Action Plan, which will identify the key measures to achieve the 20 per cent by 2020 target accepted by EU member states.

The Commission’s work does not stop there. Also due in the next 18 months is the Energy Action Plan 2011-2020, which will provide a ‘holistic strategy document’ for key policies, a regulatory framework for smart grids, a communiqué on biofuels and a revised nuclear waste directive, which will aim to establish a common, EU-wide regulatory framework for waste and spent fuel.

With all this work to get through, the Commission will need a great deal of assistance from the power industry. So the publication of Roadmap 2050, which involves the input from power equipment makers, utilities, trade associations, NGOs and banks comes at a crucial period. EU Energy Commissioner Gàƒ¼nther Oettinger congratulated the ECF on its report, saying, “This work will be of great use in preparing our infrastructure package for later this year.”

While the authors of the report stressed that they were at pains to be conservative in their projections, it is clear the decarbonization of Europe’s power sector by 2050 is very ambitious indeed.

The report presumes that the use of fossil fuelled generation has already peaked and its policy recommendations to the Commission to introduce complementary measures to the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme instead of improving it may be counter-productive, at least in the short term.

While renewables may well be competitive with fossil fuelled generation in the medium term, without a high carbon price there may be too few sticks to disincentivize the short-term construction of less expensive fossil fuel fired plant and thus lock-in Europe to a high-carbon pathway.

Nonetheless, McKinsey & Co. et al have pulled off quite a coup. By convincingly portraying the decarbonization of the European power sector as desirable from an economic as well as environmental viewpoint, it allows for the possibility of a realistic European Commission action plan for a low carbon Europe by 2050. Whether or not the 27 member states can then act upon the plan is an argument for another day.


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