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Investment in solar energy is urgently needed to meet climate targets

Investment in solar energy is urgently needed to meet climate targets. According to a new study from Aarhus University, the cheapest and easiest way to reach the climate targets of the Paris Agreement is to immediately invest in a lot of solar energy. The team found that early and steady action is the best approach for transitioning to green energy.

“Achieving a climate-neutral European Union in 2050 requires meeting the milestones in between. Although carbon emissions will most likely sink by 20% in 2020 relative to 1990, it is unclear whether the 40% objective settled for 2030 will be met,” wrote the study authors. 

“The national energy plans for the coming decade submitted by member states do not add up the necessary reduction to meet the target, while in the context of a European Green Deal a more ambitious reduction of 55% is under discussion in 2020.”

The researchers have modeled the decarbonization of the sector-coupled European energy system using hourly data for every European and Scandinavian country.

Using the university’s supercomputer, PRIME, the experts mapped out how to modify the production of electricity, heating, and transport sector energy, in such a way that will cover the demands for every hour even in the coldest weeks of winter. 

Study co-author Professor Marta Victoria is an expert in photovoltaics (PV) and energy systems in the Department of Engineering at Aarhus.

“We ask the question of which energy strategy to employ in order to reach the 2050 goal. We have a ‘carbon budget’ – a maximum amount of CO2 we can emit – and how do we make sure, that by 2050 we reach climate-neutrality in the cheapest and most feasible way?” 

“There are two scenarios: Early and steady or late and rapid,” explained Professor Victoria. “Our model clearly shows that the cost optimized solution is to act now. To be ambitious in the short term. And we find solar energy and onshore and offshore wind to be the cost optimized cornerstone in a fully decarbonized 2050 energy system.”

Professor Victoria noted that both paths require a massive deployment of wind and solar PV during the next 30 years.

“It’s not an easy task. In some years, we will have to install more than a 100 Gigawatts of solar PV and wind power, and to achieve full decarbonisation the CO2 prices will have to be a lot higher than today.”

The study reveals the need for a slowly rising CO2 price that maximizes around 400 €/ton in the year 2050, which is around 20 times higher than today’s prices. 

The model also includes hydro power and small amount of gas-based electricity and heating production to account for so-called “nightmare weeks.”

“District heating systems are efficient for very cold and critical periods where electricity demand and heating demand is high, but wind and solar energy production is low. Large hot water tanks discharge during those weeks. This way we make sure that the future energy systems work for every possible scenario.”

The study is published in the journal Nature Communications.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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