Official Journal of the European Union

C 107/37

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Roadmap for a low carbon energy system by 2050’ (exploratory opinion)

2011/C 107/08

Rapporteur: Mr PEZZINI

On 12 May 2010 the Commission decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 304 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, on the

Roadmap for a low carbon energy system by 2050

(Exploratory opinion).

The Section for Transport, Energy, Infrastructure and the Information Society, which was responsible for preparing the Committee’s work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 2 February 2011.

At its 469th plenary session, held on 16 and 17 February 2011 (meeting of 17 February 2011), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 193 votes to three with five abstentions.

1.   Conclusions and recommendations

1.1   Framing a properly joined-up European energy policy is a matter of great importance in the Committee’s view. It is also important, within this framework, to integrate a medium- and long-term EU strategy that sets out a roadmap up to 2050 aimed at competitively and sustainably reducing the carbon content of energy produced, so as to provide a global response to the challenges of climate change and to satisfy EU societal and industrial needs.

1.2   To achieve a common energy policy, in a global context, the Committee feels that an ‘integrated energy community’ needs to be created, as provided for by Article 194 of the Lisbon Treaty.

1.3   The EESC believes that the Roadmap for ‘decarbonising’ energy by 2050 should be able to:

assemble a variety of potential development paths for production and use of energy in Europe;

explore consensual avenues for economic transition;

define procedures for ongoing dialogue on the Roadmap at the various levels;

define the measures necessary for better understanding of strategic decisions;

outline economic compatibility systems which respect competition and are supported by society;

highlight the essential elements of flexibility to be able to adapt rapidly to climate change, new technologies and world economic development.

1.4   The EESC believes it is essential to adopt policy mixes including:

energy efficiency measures;

safe CO2 capture and storage (CCS) systems;

robust mechanisms for emission exchange;

competitive development of renewables;

conversion of power plant, to low carbon energy production;

sustainable conversion of modes of transport;

adequate international technical standardisation;

measures to expand high-efficiency combined heat and power production (CHP).

1.5   The EESC believes that the 2050 Roadmap should take into account four key variables:

sharp acceleration of technical progress - scientific and technological;

commitment by all countries and sectors concerned to assume specific responsibilities;

sustainability of a financial framework that is stable over time; and

measurability of interim targets and their adaptability to technical and scientific progress.

1.6   With regard to the integrated European energy mix toolbox, the EESC believes it is essential to establish without delay a consensual programme for investment in the following fields:

smart grids and enhancement of energy transmission networks;

research and development of joint programmes in the areas of energy sustainability, nanoscience and nanotechnologies, IT applications for network macrosystems, and home microsystems;

ability to regulate complex systems and provide a stable reference framework for industry and public and private operators;

reinforcement of structured, interactive dialogue with the social partners, consumers and the public;

a solid framework for international cooperation and dialogue, bringing together old and new industrialised countries around agreed, measurable targets.

1.7   As regards short-term targets, the EESC believes attention should be focused on the immediate introduction of:

energy-efficiency measures, particularly in construction and transport, paying greater attention to European directives;

rapid, widespread enhancement of emission exchange mechanisms;

practical systems for phasing-in of low-carbon electricity, and acceleration and dissemination of the pilot projects in operation;

substantial support for pilot projects to develop portfolios of low-carbon, affordable technologies;

fiscal and financial support allowing widespread use of alternative energies;

more education mechanisms and training systems in scientific disciplines, based on integrated, multidisciplinary models;

development of energy infrastructure and Trans-European Networks, and dissemination of smart grids standardised using European standardisation systems;

an efficient framework for international cooperation.

1.8   In the medium term the EESC believes that the following should be ensured:

a global market for affordable, low-carbon technologies, with common international technical standards;

regular measuring of achievement of interim targets, to ensure that responsibilities are shouldered in the EU and on the global market;

updating of targets in line with change, scientific discoveries and changes to the world economic and trade map;

where necessary, reframing of the strategies necessary for 60-80 % greenhouse gas emission cuts;

practical dissemination of joint instruments for management of networks and energy storage and transmission hubs;

better mechanisms for governance, achieving consensus and interactive dialogue between all stakeholders;

the development of nuclear fission in those Member States that wish to continue using this technology, moving from Generation III to IV, and of techniques for reusing most of the materials;

support for research on nuclear fusion, based on the European Fusion Development Agreement (EFDA) and in particular on the JET experiment (Joint European Torus) supported by the European Commission that is paving the way for the launch of ITER post 2020;

stepping up the fight against energy poverty, which is in danger of excluding increasingly extensive groups of people and of countries as a whole.

1.9   The EESC believes that initially the following are needed:

political commitment to an integrated EU energy system with common rules;

harmonised, stable regulatory frameworks;

Community technical standards;

European power plants with compatible interoperability standards;

Community schemes for uniform staff training;

effective mechanisms for exchange of best practices and available technologies;

interoperable IT security and control systems;

a widespread cultural policy promoting energy sustainability.

1.10   The Committee deems it vital to develop and step up a consistent communication policy at EU level, delivering an effective, credible and accessible message to the various target groups and, above all, to the general public.

2.   Introduction

2.1   Global climate change is a widely-acknowledged fact, but the nature and extent of its effects are less widely recognised.

2.2   The EU must decide what Europe wants to achieve by 2020 and beyond. The Commission is proposing an Energy Strategy 2011-2020, along with a Roadmap for a low carbon energy system by 2050, to promote sustainable growth.

2.3   The Commission has asked the EESC for two separate exploratory opinions on the medium- and long-term development perspectives - one up to 2020 and the other up to 2050. The present exploratory opinion will focus on the latter timeframe.

2.4   The Roadmap for ‘decarbonising’ energy by 2050 should be able to:

assemble a variety of potential competitive development paths for production and use of energy in Europe, in line with long-term global climate targets and EU societal and industrial needs;

explore consensual avenues for economic transition in respect of today’s and tomorrow’s energy policy decisions, accepted by the social partners and civil society through ongoing interactive dialogue;

define procedures for ongoing dialogue on the Roadmap at the various levels, between political decision-makers, public authorities, energy operators and distributors, industry, trade unions, environmental organisations, trade and services, users in the electricity, residential, service and transport sectors, science and technology communities and educational institutions, financial and credit systems, farmers, consumers and the public;

define the measures necessary for better understanding of the strategic decisions needed to achieve the greenhouse gas reduction targets of 60-80 %, particularly through large-scale introduction of new energy technologies to achieve long-term stabilisation of atmospheric concentration of CO2 below 450 ppmv (parts per million by volume);

outline economic compatibility systems which respect competition and are supported by society, for public and private financing, for taxation and for budgetary planning;

highlight the essential elements of flexibility, needed because of the - often sudden - changes in scientific research and economic trends and the evolution of social culture.

2.5   In all the scenarios available thus far with targets of cutting emissions by 80 % by 2050, the EESC feels a key role must be played by policy mixes including:

energy efficiency measures;

widespread CO2 capture and storage (CCS) systems and reinforced mechanisms for regulating emission exchange;

substantial increases in shares of renewables;

development of nuclear fission, moving from Generation III to IV, and support for nuclear fusion research;

substantial increases in shares of electricity produced using low carbon energy systems;

major contributions to increase conversion of road, air and sea transport and to reduce energy consumption in the residential building and service sectors;

investment in RTD&D and transfers, in respect of market innovation;

speeding-up of technical standardisation work at EU and international level;

measures to expand high-efficiency combined heat and power production (CHP).

2.6   With regard to the integrated European energy mix toolbox, which will be necessary irrespective of the policy mix adopted and discoveries made, the EESC believes investment is needed to:

develop smart grids and network configurations developing electricity and heat storage technologies;

incorporate operationally into the European area of energy research and innovation the various RTD&D and technological innovation programmes;

establish a solid, stable political framework within which all the stakeholders involved can operate with a reasonable level of certainty;

launch strong capacity-building measures to create a system of effective levels of governance;

identify stable, reliable channels for international cooperation.

2.7   At global level, the report by the IEA (International Energy Agency) and various other international bodies outline a number of scenarios showing that continuing current energy operation in the medium-term would be unsustainable from many points of view - environmental, economic and social.

2.8   At global level, all countries should undertake to adopt low-carbon development strategies in high-emission sectors by 2011. Otherwise there is the danger that European energy intensive industries will fail to remain competitive on the global market and thus relocate their production (carbon leakage) out of Europe without any reduction of CO2 emissions. These strategies should also include, for example, swift cuts in tropical deforestation activities.

2.9   The G20 identified two groups of key areas for global action – one focusing on the short term and one focusing on the medium term.

2.9.1   The first group covers measures aimed at promoting demand and supporting income, such as:

increasing energy efficiency;

improving infrastructures to make them low-carbon;

support for markets through clean technologies.

2.9.2   In the medium-to-long term, however, measures are aimed at winning the loyalty of private entrepreneurs and investors in sectors which will become the pillars of ecocompatible development. These include:

launching pilot projects, especially in the area of CCS;

incentives for research at international level;

incentives for investment in low carbon technologies.

2.10   According to various scenarios, global emissions could be cut by 50 % by 2050 - four main factors will contribute to this:

energy efficiency - contributing more than half;

renewable resources - about a fifth;

CO2 capture and storage technology - another fifth; and

nuclear sources - the remainder.

In actual fact, some of the technologies included in the scenario are no longer available or need substantial improvements or cuts in costs.

2.11   Technologies to be used could include CCS and development of electric vehicles.

2.11.1   Considerable technological progress is expected in the area of electric vehicles:

in battery-charging capacity;

in charging from renewables, connected in smart grids;

in buffer techniques, to remedy the discontinuity of certain renewable energies and the storage and conservation of energy;

in standardisation processes to ensure fast replacement of vehicle batteries in equipped supply centres.

2.12   Considerable progress is also expected, probably beyond 2020, in development of hydrogen-powered fuel-cell vehicles.

2.13   Electric vehicles currently lack a proper EU legal framework. The Commission intends to remedy this in the near future (COM(2010) 186 final).

2.14   In the EESC’s view, decarbonised electricity generation would offer substantial opportunities to reduce emissions in end-use sectors (for example, switching from fossil fuel heating to efficient gas-driven heat pumps).

2.15   A combination of a range of measures will be required to achieve the ‘virtuous’ scenario of deep cuts in emissions (including a production mix of renewables and nuclear, energy efficiency, investment in new technologies and carbon capture and storage). Moreover, it is estimated (IEA’s 2010 ETP report – Scenarios and strategies to 2050) that in order to halve emissions, government funding for RD&D in low-carbon technologies will need to be two to five times higher than current levels and best practices in design and implementation will need to be adopted.

2.15.1   The 2010 IEA report on Energy Technology Perspectives analyses and compares various scenarios, setting out the main options for a more secure and sustainable energy future.

2.16   In the EESC’s view, a fundamental consideration here is that many energy challenges have a huge impact on local communities. These communities seek solutions tailored to their specific circumstances, and worry that their standard of living and development may be reduced or curtailed.

2.17   The progress to be made and/or planned under the 2050 Roadmap towards a genuine energy revolution based on low-carbon technologies will involve many choices, underpinned by five key variables:

acceleration of technical progress - scientific and technological;

commitment by all countries and sectors concerned to assume specific responsibilities;

sustainability of a financial framework that is stable over time;

measurability of interim targets and their adaptability to technical and scientific progress; and

the behaviour of the various players in respect of ‘announced policy’ and the risk of misinformation, either overly optimistic or overly doom-laden.

3.   Scenarios and options

3.1   A range of scenarios and options have already been set out by public and private international bodies and by non-profit organisations aimed at ‘offering’ bases for strategies, policies and operational instruments.

3.2   The baseline scenario of these exercises almost always assumes that governments introduce no new energy and climate policies.

3.3   The main difference between the target-oriented scenarios lies in the timing of the impacts rather than their ultimate magnitude; they set the goal of cutting energy-related CO2 emissions by 30 % by 2030 and halving them by 2050 (compared to 2005) and examine the least costly and fastest means of achieving those goals, deploying affordable, low-carbon technologies:

investment is EUR 36 trillion (EUR 1 = USD 1.28) (17 %) more than in the baseline scenario; cumulative fuel savings are EUR 87 trillion higher than in baseline;

CCS is used to capture 9.4 Gt of CO2 from plants in power generation (55 %), industry (21 %) and fuel transformation (24 %);

CO2 emissions from the residential and tertiary sectors are reduced by two-thirds through low-carbon electricity, energy efficiency and the switch to low- and zero-carbon technologies;

almost 80 % of light-duty vehicle sales are plug-in hybrid, electric or fuel-cell vehicles;

CO2 emissions from power generation are cut by 76 %; its carbon intensity falls to 67 g/kWh; and

CO2 emissions in industry fall by around a quarter, mainly thanks to energy efficiency, fuel switching, recycling, energy recovery and CCS.

3.3.1   To achieve these goals, a portfolio of low-carbon, affordable technologies will be necessary. No one technology or small group of technologies can deliver the magnitude of change required.

3.4   Decarbonising the electricity sector is crucial and must involve considerable increases in the shares of renewables and - in those Member States that have chosen to use it - nuclear power, and deployment of CCS systems and the expansion of combined heat and power systems in fossil-fuel power plants.

3.5   Focusing efforts on technological research, demonstration and market deployment is fundamental to ensuring that the implementation of technologies keeps pace with the proposed decarbonisation goals.

3.6   The scenario of developing nuclear fusion

Fusion is the energy source that powers the sun and the stars. On earth, it offers the prospect of a long-term, safe, environmentally benign energy option to meet the energy needs of a growing world population. Within the European Fusion Development Agreement (EFDA) fusion scientists now manipulate plasmas of hundreds of millions of degrees, in fusion devices on an industrial scale, the largest of which is JET (Joint European Torus). Based on these and other worldwide achievements, the ITER experimental reactor - the world’s biggest energy research project - is currently being built in France; its fusion power will be equivalent to that generated by an average-sized reactor (500/700 MW). ITER is the bridge towards a first demonstration power plant and later to a commercial reactor of an average of about 1.5 GWe. (The fuel consumption of an electric nuclear fusion power plant is low. A 1GW power plant would consume around 100 kg of deuterium and three tonnes of natural lithium in a year whilst generating 7 billion kilowatt-hours. To generate the same amount of electricity, a coal-fired power plant would need around 1.5 million tonnes of coal (source: http://fusionforenergy.europa.eu)).

3.6.1   The primary reaction on which fusion is based generates no nuclear waste or pollutant emissions. (It should be noted that although the walls of the reaction chamber become radioactive, over the life of the reactor, by selecting the right materials this radioactivity will decay over several decades, with the possibility of re-using all the materials in a new reactor after around 100 years. (Source: www.jet.efda.org)). The reaction occurs with the fusion of atoms that are abundant in nature, particularly in seawater. Moreover, the process is inherently safe.

3.6.2   The elements involved in the primary reaction are deuterium, tritium, lithium, and helium. The process of fusing these atoms releases a large quantity of energy, which is given off in the form of heat, in an exchanger, at a temperature of 550/650 °C (an average nuclear fission reactor generates an average temperature of 700 °C). The development of advanced materials should enable temperatures of 1 000 °C to be reached. The vapour produced drives the turbine (rotor), which then generates induced current (stator).

3.6.3   The fusion of a deuterium nucleus (1 proton + 1 neutron) and a tritium atom (1 proton + 2 neutrons) gives rise to one helium nucleus (2 protons + 2 neutrons) and one neutron. This neutron combines with a lithium atom (3 protons + 3 neutrons), and creates one helium atom (2 protons + 2 neutrons) and one tritium atom (1 proton + 2 neutrons). Within the reaction chamber (Torus), the matter takes a particular form known as plasma, which reaches an average temperature of some 200 million °C.   Some 50 MW of energy is needed to heat the plasma in ITER. Thus the fusion process will produce ten times the power consumed in initiating the process: Q> 10.

4.   General comments

4.1   The EESC would highlight the following issues in respect of the 2050 Roadmap:

costs and return on investment: moving from an annual average of some EUR 130 billion over the last three years to an average of EUR 600 billion;

finding funds for investment: providing a stable framework for investors, adequate investment return schemes, financial support and low-tax incentives;

decarbonising the electricity sector: radical energy policy change and significant investment are needed to break the current dependence on fossil fuels;

design, operation and deployment of electricity grids, ensuring the flexibility of smart grids and power transformation plant, for better management of peak loads and a rational feed-in and redistribution of the various forms of energy (feeding in renewable energy sources and using smart meters can change the electricity transmission system);

energy efficiency programmes, especially to improve carbon emissions levels from industry (22 % of total emissions);

reducing direct and indirect global emissions from the buildings sector (40 % of total emissions), focusing on all structural aspects;

as regards transport (38 % of total emissions) – on which the EESC is drawing up a specific opinion – achieving deep cuts in carbon emissions by 2050 will require less use of traditional fuels, an increase in the share of better gaseous fuels (LPG, CNG (compressed natural gas ), biogas), and technological breakthroughs and innovations;

international coordination: Europe, the USA, Japan, China, India and Brazil should set common 2030-2050 targets, with due respect for the specific nature of each area, for levels of economic development and endowments of natural resources.

4.2   Targets on cutting CO2 emissions by 20 % by 2020 have already been set: the EESC is currently drawing up an opinion on this.

4.3   As regards the prospects for the 2050 Roadmap, the EESC would highlight the following key issues:

acceleration of technical progress - scientific and technological: increasing funding and programmes, not only in respect of climate and energy sources, but above all regarding the use and conservation of natural and strategic resources;

commitment by all countries, sectors, and players concerned to clearly demarcate and assume responsibilities in the EU;

sustainability of a financial framework that is stable over time, in respect of the EU budget, the Stability and Growth Pact and Member States’ fiscal policies;

measurability of the interim targets and their adaptability to technical and scientific progress;

the behaviour of the various players in respect of ‘planned and announced policy’ and the risk of misinformation;

support for scientific and technical culture and cultural and financial incentives to increase the number of students in higher-level technology institutes;

more rigorous compliance and enforcement by Member States of EU directives on energy efficiency and saving (e.g. the delays in transposing Directive 2002/91/EC on the Energy Performance of Buildings);

more education and training mechanisms in scientific disciplines: engineering, physics, basic chemistry, architecture, urban planning and plant engineering, focusing on creating integrated systemic models, particularly in the area of nanoscience and energy system nanotechnologies, suitable for generating low-CO2 energy;

political commitment to an integrated Community energy system with common rules; a harmonised, stable regulatory framework; Community technical standards; standardised European power plants; Community schemes for uniform staff training; exchange of best practices and information on BAT (Best Available Technologies); interoperable IT security and control systems.

4.4   To the four industrial initiatives launched in June 2010 (wind, solar, CCS and smart grids) should be added bioenergy and nuclear fission, in addition to the FCH JTI (Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Joint Technology Initiative) and ITER, for nuclear fusion.

4.5   The EESC believes it is essential to promote more efficient use not just of energy but also of all natural resources, in particular water resources.

4.6   The EESC stresses that ‘priority should be given to the development of alternative fuels and technologies for transport power, heat and light. The best strategy for climate change is to develop alternative energy options other than fossil fuels.’ (cf. CESE 766/2010).

4.7   The EESC calls for stronger measures to combat energy poverty, which is in danger of excluding increasingly large groups of people (green options can be costly in terms of higher prices and/or taxes, especially for the more vulnerable population groups), and for European expertise to be pooled to create new ‘green’ jobs - effective, sustainable and competitive - and reduce inequalities (1), giving consumers ‘access to energy services and jobs created by the low-carbon economy’ (2).

4.8   The EESC believes electricity production to be a priority area of action to develop increasing shares of renewables and nuclear fission generation moving from type III to IV (with minimum waste). Investment should be made in waste-processing technologies, and possible ways of reusing such waste in the field of nanoscience should be explored.

4.9   The EESC believes CCS systems to be extremely important for cutting emissions, and ‘this technology should therefore be developed more rapidly and used as soon as possible’ (3) - at a reasonable and competitive cost - and not just on the five pilot projects.

4.10   The EESC believes it is essential to boost all aspects of the internal energy market ‘as regards infrastructure, the public procurement system, proper operation of the market and consumer protection. The basic issue here is the need to develop energy infrastructure and the trans-European networks in order to establish the internal market in energy’ (4).

4.11   The EESC believes that an integrated energy community is essential, in implementation of Article 1 of the Treaty (TFEU) (5), in an integrated European reference framework focused on competitiveness, wellbeing and creating jobs for the people of Europe.

Brussels, 17 February 2011.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee


(1)  OJ C 48, 15.2.2011, p. 65.

(2)  OJ C 48, 15.2.2011, p. 81.

(3)  OJ C 27, 3.2.2009, p. 75.

(4)  OJ C 48, 15.2.2011, p. 81.

(5)  OJ C 83, 30.3.2010, p. 47.