Decentralised or centralised renewables – options for Europe’s energy system

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Decentralised or centralised renewables are the two scenarios proposed for the ongoing evolution of Europe’s network development plan.

With the completion of the latest version of the Ten Year Network Development Plan (TYNDP) 2020, the European electricity transmission system operators network ENTSO-E in partnership with its gas counterpart ENTSOG is turning its attention to the next TYNDP 2022.

In terms of regulation the plan must be based on scenarios and storylines reflecting EU policy goals and strategies.

The two scenarios proposed for TYNDP 2022 reflect essentially the poles in the ongoing deployment of renewables. One named ‘Distributed Energy’ has a decentralised renewable focus. The other, ‘Global ambition’, has a centralised low carbon and renewable approach.

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Both target at least 55% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 and climate neutrality by 2050.

The ‘Distributed energy’ scenario is driven by a willingness of society to achieve energy autonomy based on widely available indigenous renewable energy sources, the Scenario Storyline Report states. It translates into both a way-of-life evolution and strong decentralised drive towards decarbonisation through local initiatives by citizens, communities and businesses, supported by authorities.

Conversely, the ‘Global ambition’ scenario is driven by a fast and global move towards the Paris Agreement targets. It translates into development of a very wide range of technologies, many being centralised, and the use of global energy trade as a tool to accelerate decarbonisation.

Electricity system perspective

From an electricity system perspective, the ‘Distributed energy’ scenario sees a strong increase of heat pumps and electric vehicles (EVs), which results in a deep electrification of final use demand. This demand is met by maximising the use of wind and solar, which results in a power system with little dispatchable thermal generation remaining.

The dispatchable capacities that are available are based on solid biomass and power plants fuelled by renewable gas.

Demand side flexibility solutions are required so that the electricity system can remain in balance. In the residential and tertiary sectors, the use of home batteries and smart charging of EVs can support short term balancing of the electricity grids. Large consumers in agriculture, industry and district heating are able to provide flexibility through demand side response and hybrid power to heat.

Sector integration through the production of storable energy in the form of gas and liquids by electrolysis provides seasonal flexibility to the electricity system.

In the ‘Global ambition’ scenario, renewable deployment is optimised at the European level in order to seek both cost efficiency and build public acceptance. Global efforts see offshore wind as a major technology in northern Europe with the formation of North Sea energy hubs, while centralised solar leads in the south of Europe.

Nuclear power complements the energy mix to a limited extent, largely led by national energy policies. Moreover, the power sector will also benefit from the development of biomethane in the methane mix which enables negative emissions to compensate for hard to decarbonise sectors.

Despite the existence of dispatchable generation there is still some need for additional flexibility, to be provided by utility-scale batteries, demand side management including hybrid heat pumps, and smart charging of EVs.

The two scenarios are of course not intended to reflect recommended or preferred transitions but to provide an appropriate basis for the infrastructure assessment on which the network development plan can be based.

The scenarios are now out for consultation with modelling due to start in Q1 of 2021 and a draft plan to follow in Q2.