European Perspectives: Decarbonising the power system

European Perspectives: Decarbonising the power system
By Professor Brian Scott-Quinn

Decarbonising the power generation system across the EU is proving highly contentious. The whole debate came to the boil in December 2020 as scientists across Europe attacked the European Commission for backtracking on being net-zero CO2 by 2050. There is also an ongoing dispute between those who are pressing for ‘100% renewable’ energy against those who claim that such a target is scientifically unachievable. It has become a ‘politicians against the experts’ debate.

Some would argue that the EU and individual countries are setting renewable targets rather than CO2 emission-free targets and that scientifically this means that as the percentage of renewables increases, they will need to use more natural gas turbine generated power or nuclear power. This is because renewables (wind and solar) are ‘intermittent’ power generators or variable renewable energy (VRE) since there are days when there is no wind blowing and solar does not generate when it is dark. A cost of all VRE arises from its intermittency. Sadly, battery storage beyond four hours is simply not economic. But if the proportion of renewables continues to rise and gas and nuclear are ruled out, there is currently no solution except blackouts or brownouts (a reduction in electrical power).

In the third article of Henley's European Perspectives series, Professor Brian Scott-Quinn discusses the viability of decarbonising power generation systems in the pursuit of renewable energy targets.

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