How wind and rooftop solar could meet most of EU electricity needs

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Two separate research analyses have outlined the ways onshore wind generation and rooftop solar could supply all or much of Europe’s electricity needs.

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Two separate research analyses have outlined the ways renewable energy sources could supply all or much of Europe’s electricity needs.

The first report claims Europe has the capacity to produce more than 100-times the amount of energy it currently produces through onshore wind farms, while the second claims that rooftop solar across the European Union could provide 24.4 per cent of the region’s current electricity consumption.

Wind’s role in Europe was tackled by researchers at the University of Sussex, England, who analysed all suitable sites for onshore wind farms across Europe. The study revealed that onshore wind has the potential to supply enough energy – not only for Europe, but for the whole world, until 2050. Specifically, if all of Europe’s potential onshore wind capacity was realised, total nameplate capacity would be 52.5 TW.

“The study is not a blueprint for development but a guide for policymakers indicating the potential of how much more can be done and where the prime opportunities exist,” explained co-author Benjamin Sovacool, Professor of Energy Policy at the University of Sussex.

“Our study suggests that the horizon is bright for the onshore wind sector and that European aspirations for a 100% renewable energy grid are within our collective grasp technologically.

“Obviously, we are not saying that we should install turbines in all the identified sites but the study does show the huge wind power potential right across Europe which needs to be harnessed if we’re to avert a climate catastrophe.”

The study shows that 11 million additional wind turbines could theoretically be installed over almost 5 million square kilometres of suitable European terrain, with Turkey, Russia, and Norway having the greatest potential for future wind power development.

“Critics will no doubt argue that the naturally intermittent supply of wind makes onshore wind energy unsuitable to meet the global demand,” added Peter Enevoldsen, assistant professor in the Center for Energy Technologies at Aarhus University, which was involved in the research.

“But even without accounting for developments in wind turbine technology in the upcoming decades, onshore wind power is the cheapest mature source of renewable energy and utilizing the different wind regions in Europe is the key to meet the demand for a 100% renewable and fully decarbonised energy system.”

The research was conducted using spatial analysis of Geographical Information System (GIS)-based wind atlases which allowed the research team to identify around 46 per cent of Europe’s territory would be suitable for onshore wind farms.

The advanced GIS data provides a far more detailed insight than other analyses and provided the team with the ability to factor in a far greater range of exclusionary factors such as houses, roads, restricted areas, and terrain simply not suitable for wind power generation.

“One of the most important findings of this study, aside from the fact that it concludes that the European onshore wind potential is larger than previously estimated, is that it facilitates the ability of countries to plan their onshore wind resource development more efficiently, thereby easing the way for commitments by these countries to move entirely to clean, renewable energy for all purposes,” said Mark Jacobson, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford University.

The second study, focusing on Europe’s rooftop solar PV potential, combined geospatial and statistical data to assess the technical potential of rooftops for solar energy deployment on every building across the entire European Union. The model, using machine learning, was also able to quantify the total available rooftop surface for solar PV systems.

The analysis resulted in the discovery that 680 TWh could be generated, providing 24.4% of the European Union’s current electricity consumption, if all rooftops were paired with rooftop solar systems.

The research, carried out by researchers from the European Commission Joint Research Centre and the European Institute of Innovation & Technology, provided a EU-building density map in 100-metre resolution.

(“Example of obtained building density raster for the Lombardy region in northern Italy. The scale refers to the rooftop area resolved to a level of granularity of 100m×100m.”)

“Specific countries such as Germany, France, Italy, Spain stand out in the maps as they host the highest economic potential that translates to more options for advantageous investments,” the authors of the report wrote.

“Competitive LCOE in these countries only partially comes from a favourable solar resource; lower cost of finances (WACC) combined with higher retail electricity prices are important cost-efficiency drivers.”

The research also showed nine markets where, unlike the rest of the EU, grid-parity remains a ways off due to cheap fossil fuel electricity. The nine countries are situated in Eastern Europe, and include Romania, Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Croatia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. It is an unfortunate problem, as these countries often also have very favourable solar resources – especially in Romania, Croatia, and Bulgaria.

Conversely, Cyprus and Malta boasted both impressive solar resources and good financing conditions, resulting in the lowest system production cost in the European Union. Portugal also stands out with “excellent solar potential … coupled with favourable financing conditions and rather high retail prices.”

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