EU 2050 energy roadmap – Greenpeace analysis

Publication - December 15, 2011
Our power stations and electricity networks are old and need upgrading. Replacing them will cost money, but what should European governments invest in? Clean energy or conventional fuels? The EU 2050 energy roadmap, which the Commission released on 15 December, is the first attempt to answer this question and guide future policy decisions in the energy sector.

All energy scenarios explored by the Commission are expected to recognise the need for a major uptake of renewables, despite major bias in calculations on expected electricity prices that would penalise renewable technologies. The Commission recognises the need for Europe to set in place renewable energy objectives for 2030.

The new Rainbow Warrior sails past the Princess Amalia wind farm, in northern Holland, in late October. The park consists of 60 windmills which supply 125,000 homes with clean energy. Wind energy and other renewables emerge as the dominant energy source in the EU 2050 energy roadmap. The European Commission says developing clean energy in Europe will cost no more than having a system dependent on dirty and dangerous energy from coal and nuclear power.


The Commission has analysed seven different pathways for Europe’s energy sector. These are based on the assumption that carbon emissions from the energy sector must be reduced by 85% by 2050, in line with the Commission’s own low carbon economy roadmap 2050.

The Commission has two reference pathways, one based on business-as-usual and one that takes into account existing policies. There is no combined high energy efficiency/high renewables scenario, but five “decarbonisation” pathways, including:

  • an energy efficiency scenario;
  • a diversified supply technologies scenario;
  • a high renewable energy scenario: 75% renewable energy in overall energy use, 97% renewables in electricity consumption (or 87% in electricity production);
  • A delayed carbon capture and storage (CCS) scenario (a ‘high nuclear’ pathway);
  • A low nuclear scenario (a ‘high CCS’ pathway).

Greenpeace EU energy policy adviser Frauke Thies: “The roadmap shows that, no matter how Europe wants to develop its energy system, we need to boost renewables, save energy and make the power network more flexible. These three elements are where European governments should focus their efforts. The roadmap also demonstrates that coal and nuclear energy are irrelevant. They have no future and governments should stop wasting time and money on them. The next step for the EU should be to fill the gap on energy policy beyond 2020 and agree new targets for renewables, energy efficiency and carbon emission reduction by 2030.”


Positive findings

Renewables at no extra cost. Energy costs are likely to rise, no matter which pathway Europe chooses. According to the Commission's calculations, the overall system costs for the reference pathways and any of the decarbonisation pathways, including the high renewable energy scenario, will be almost identical: around €1.8 trillion per year in 2011-2020, around €2.45 trillion per year in 2021-2030 and around €3 trillion per year in 2031-2050.

Efficiency and renewables across the board. All decarbonisation scenarios require:

  • a substantial increase in energy efficiency;
  • a significant uptake of renewable energy – even in pathways assuming high quantities of nuclear power and fossil fuels with CCS, renewable energy would still provide at least 55% of total energy use;
  • a more flexible power system with a smarter and better interconnected grid system, more flexible market rules for cross-border trade and the targeted use of energy storage.

Insignificant role for nuclear power and coal with CCS. The scenarios indicate that nuclear power and coal with CCS are not essential. For example, the high-renewable energy pathway includes less than 1.5% of nuclear energy and less than 1% of coal in total final energy use (3.5% nuclear and 2.1% coal in electricity production) in 2050.


Flawed assessments

Slow emission reductions. The carbon emission pathway is based on the Commission’s 2011 low carbon economy roadmap. However, the latter only analyses a reduction of European emissions by 80%, which is at the least ambitious end of the range of 80-95% cuts that the EU has committed to by 2050. Scientists argue that further and faster reductions are required.

Low growth expectations for renewables and efficiency. As a consequence of its low ambition on emission reductions, the Commission predicts that in 2030 only around 30% of energy will come from renewables in the different decarbonisation scenarios (52-60% in electricity and about 20% in transport – specific data for heating and cooling is not available, but assumptions on the contribution of renewables in this sector also appear to be very low). Other scenarios have shown that well over 40% of renewable energy is possible in the total energy mix [1]. Similarly, the high energy efficiency pathway is not even in line with the 20% energy savings by 2020 that the EU has already committed to.

Incorrect assumptions on carbon emission savings for CCS. The roadmap assumes emissions from fossil fuel power stations equipped with CCS to be zero. However, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, it is projected that CO2 emission from power plants with CCS would only be reduced by about 80-90%, compared to similar plants without CCS [2].

Higher energy cost assumptions in high renewables scenario. Although the overall energy system costs are almost identical for all scenarios, specific prices for electricity are assumed to be higher in the high renewable energy scenario. This is due to a number of serious flaws and errors in the calculations that favour fossil and nuclear energy technologies.

  • The costs for solar energy are drastically overestimated. Today, costs for photovoltaics are between €2000-3000 per kilowatt of installed capacity. However, the roadmap assumes current costs at above 4000 €/kW, reaching levels around 2000 €/kW only after 2025.
  • The calculations assume that neither onshore nor offshore wind nor geothermal power can achieve significant cost reductions. These pessimistic assumptions contradict recent experience and are in stark contrast to assumptions on the cost of nuclear power, which the Commission predicts will decline by almost 20%. Instead, market experience shows that costs for nuclear have been increasing consistently. Furthermore, the full costs of nuclear power (including waste storage, decommissioning and insurance) have not been taken into account. Similarly, the Commission predicts significant reductions in costs for CCS after 2025. Nothing from the experience with this technology so far indicates that this will be the case.
  • Fuel price assumptions are extremely low ($127 per barrel of oil in 2050 in the reference case and $70 in the “decarbonisation pathways”). Assumptions for coal prices are even more favourable.

Notes to editors:

[1] Energy [R]evolution – towards a fully renewable energy supply in the EU-27; DLR, Institute of Technical Thermodynamics, Department of Systems Analysis and Technology Assessment, Stuttgart, Germany; commissioned by the European Renewable Energy Council and Greenpeace (2010):

[2] Special Report on Carbon Capture and Storage; A Special Report of Group II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2005).


Contact: Frauke Thies – Greenpeace EU energy policy adviser: +32 (0)477 790415,  


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