Europe will need the equivalent of 400 GW more offshore wind capacity by 2050 to meet electricity demand if it pursues a "green molecules" pathway to net zero, Belgian transmission system operator Elia said Nov. 19.
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In a new report, Roadmap to Net Zero, the TSO studies two routes to decarbonization: an ELEC-pathway, where it is assumed electricity demand increases by 70% as a result of strong electrification; and a MOL-pathway, with electricity demand increasing by 30% due to a higher share of green molecules in final consumption.
"The ELEC-pathway requires a lower supply of RES [renewables] compared to the MOL-pathway, because certain electrified end appliances (electric vehicles and heat pumps) are very efficient and because producing green molecules carries high conversion losses," Elia said.
This underlined the importance of pursuing electrification "where it is the most efficient option," it said.
While it was clear Europe would need to import green molecules from outside its borders because of its limited renewables potential, the extent of this need ranged widely depending on choices made.
"Total electricity demand under the MOL-pathway is 1,800 TWh higher than under the ELEC-pathway," ," Elia said. "This is equivalent to the annual production of about 400 GW of offshore wind or three times today's electricity demand in Germany."
The asset challenge was massive under either pathway, Europe's annual renewables expansion rate needing to triple on the average rate over the past five years.
Inherent intermittency of renewables meant Europe would need between 240 GW and 400 GW of dispatchable generation capacity by 2050 depending on the level of interconnection, it said.
"Over the next decade, existing and new thermal plants will have to take up the role of dispatchable capacities in the system," Elia said.
During this time, decisions could surface on how to decarbonize these fossil-fired assets, the TSO argued, while growing renewables chipped away at run times.
"Different climate-neutral technologies are on the table today to take up this role, such as hydrogen fired gas turbines, fuel cells, biomass and (pumped) hydro power, [and] thermal storage plants," it said.