Doubling clean power capacity additions from 40GW to 80GW each year could drive down costs, bills, emissions and geopolitical risk, according to new analysis from Wärtsilä

As governments across Europe scramble to develop new strategies to slash imports of Russian fossil fuels in response to the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine, a new study today has highlighted how a renewables-led energy strategy could slash costs across the continent. European countries, including the UK, could collectively reduce their energy costs by as much as €323bn by the end of the decade through an accelerated rollout of renewable power capacity, which would also reduce the continent’s risky Russian gas dependency and help slash emissions, according to the new study from energy technology firm Wärtsilä.

In order to tackle the current energy crisis, which has seen already surging fossil fuel gas further exacerbated by Russia’s war in Ukraine, the report assesses the potential for Europe to collectively double its deployment of renewable power capacity between now and 2030.

It argues that a “monumental but achievable” level of multi-national coordination and investment could deliver up to 80GW of new renewable power capacity alongside grid balancing technologies every year, which would unlock rapid cost benefits for European bill payers and policymakers alike.

The projected surge in development would be almost double the 40GW of capacity deployment currently estimated for Europe for each year through to 2030 under International Energy Agency (IEA) scenarios, which would put the continent on tack to achieve a 50 per cent share of renewable power on the grid by 2030.

However, Wärtsilä argues that by rapidly accelerating the rollout of wind, solar, and other technologies in the next few years, Europe could add 80GW each year throughout the 2020s, helping achieve a share of 61 per cent of renewable power capacity by 2030, up from today’s 33 per cent share.

Such a scenario would reduce annual gas usage in the power sector by over half – 52 per cent – across Europe by 2030, enabling the continent to avoid almost 5,500TWh of fossil fuel gas consumption, equivalent to 3.5 years of Russian gas supply, according to Wärtsilä.

The report also argues that such a rapid ramp up in renewables capacity could cut Europeans’ bills in the short term by up to 10 per cent by 2025, thereby offering rapid benefits for homes and businesses currently facing surging energy costs in the fallout from the Kremlin’s decision to invade Ukraine.

Based on modelling of 33 European countries including the 27 EU member states plus the UK, Norway, Switzerland, and the Balkans, it estimates that if renewables are scaled up across the continent collectively to reach 50 per cent of the power mix by 2025, Europe could save €98bn in energy costs.

Under the ambitious scenarios, carbon emissions across Europe would also be halved from 911Mt last year to 479Mt in 2030, an amount that equates to almost the entire annual carbon footprint of the UK.

While such a rapid scale up in renewables across Europe may sound ambitious, Wärtsilä Energy’s president and Sushil Purohit said it would not be unprecedented, given China last year succeeded in doubling its offshore wind capacity last year.

And given the scale of both the current energy security crisis and the opportunity of greener energy sources, he said his message to Europe’s policymakers was that “now is not the time to change what you’re doing, it is the time to do it faster”.

“That is why we are calling for fast decisions to accelerate renewables, tackle the energy price crisis and enable rapid decarbonisation to avert the climate emergency,” Purohit said. “The time is now.”

The findings may provide further food for thought for the UK government, as it contends with the worst cost of living crisis in decades, as the gas crisis and war in Ukraine send energy bills and food prices surging upwards. Analysts have warned that 2022 could be the worst for energy prices in any single year since before the 1970s oil crisis. While cutting back fuel duty and announcing tweaks to income tax and national insurance, the Chancellor Rishi Sunak, has faced heavy criticism for failing to offer further support for vulnerable homes and businesses in last week’s Spring Statement.

Meanwhile, he is also reportedly locked in a battle with Number 10 over the forthcoming Energy Security Strategy, which has now been delayed for a second time over the Treasury’s concerns surrounding the level of state support Prime Minister Boris Johnson is seeking for new nuclear power capacity and energy efficiency programmes over the coming decade.

Figures touted in reports last week suggested Downing Street was pushing for accelerated capacity targets of 50GW of offshore wind, 30GW of onshore wind, 50GW of solar, and 16GW of nuclear by 2030 in order to help reduce the UK’s exposure to volatile global fossil fuels, such as Russian gas. But some cabinet members, including Sunak, are thought to hold misgivings about such ambitious targets, while others are opposed to proposals to relax planning rules to help accelerate the roll out of onshore wind and solar projects.

But Tony Meski, senior market development analyst at Wärtsilä Energy, stressed the UK had a “huge opportunity” to capitalise on its home-grown renewable energy resources such as a offshore wind, for which the UK currently has the largest pipeline of projects under development in the world.

“The UK has set a clear and achievable target to achieve a net zero emissions power sector by 2035, before decarbonising the economy by 2050,” said Meski. “This can be achieved with technologies available today rolled out at major scale. Adding unprecedented amounts of renewables will decrease fossil fuel dependency and cut the cost of electricity. The UK needs to simultaneously shift from a system reliant on baseload gas generation to a system capable of providing renewable balancing. This balancing capacity will eventually shift to sustainable fuels to reach net zero in 2035.”

The idea of doubling Europe’s renewables capacity additions in the coming years may perhaps sound bullish, but there is no question that far greater levels of wind, solar, and other clean energy technologies are urgently needed in the current decade and beyond to both hit climate goals and curb the UK’s dependency on fossil fuel imports. And with the clock ticking down on the need to halve global emissions by the end of the decade, further compounded by surging fossil fuel prices hitting consumer and business pockets term and the sudden drive to reduce Russian oil and gas demand in the short term, the question might reasonably be asked: why wait any longer to significantly ramp up renewables?

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