In April, the EU Commission and the European parliament agreed that by 2030, greenhouse gas emissions in Europe must be at least 55 percent lower than 1990 levels. And in line with the European Green Deal, Europe must be climate-neutral by 2050. The EU member states have submitted their national action plans for achieving these targets. For example, the German parliament passed a Climate Protection Act in May that requires a 65 percent reduction in emissions by 2030 and climate neutrality by 2045.
In the run-up to the German parliamentary elections, the subject is causing considerable controversy. The disputes are, of course, about how these ambitious targets can be reached. For example, until now the plan has been to shut down the last German coal-fired power station in 2038. However, environmental lobbyists are calling for this to be brought forward to 2030. There are also disagreements about how renewable energy generation should be expanded, but Germany will obviously continue to rely on photovoltaics and wind power in the future.
It is easy to lose sight of the fact that the Green Deal is a European project. Some EU member states have adopted different strategies for achieving the climate targets, because every country is starting from a different position and, in some cases, the differences are significant. In addition, the opinions about what is a green technology vary from country to country. This becomes particularly obvious when it comes to the use of nuclear power.
The question of cost is also difficult to answer, because there are too many uncertainties involved in the calculations. Only one thing is clear: none of this will be cheap. For example, in its study entitled Net-Zero Europe, the management consultancy McKinsey comes to the conclusion that, across Europe, annual investments of 1,000 billion euros will be needed until 2050 to meet the climate targets.
To highlight the broad spectrum of measures being taken in Europe, we have focused on five national implementation plans from Poland, the Netherlands, Italy, France, and Finland.
Poland: moving into nuclear energy
Until now, Poland has been seen as a classic “coal country” with around 70 percent of its electricity being produced from brown and black coal. But last year the government decided to phase out coal-fired power generation by 2049. The proportion of electricity produced in this way will fall to 37 percent by as early as 2030 and then to 11 percent by 2040. Poland is relying on renewable energy and nuclear power for its transition and, by 2030, at least 23 percent of its gross final energy consumption will come from renewables. The national climate plan provides for a power output of 5.9 gigawatts from offshore wind farms in the Baltic by 2030 and this will rise to 11 gigawatts by 2040. The corresponding figures for photovoltaics are seven and 16 gigawatts.
Poland’s plan to move into nuclear energy is giving rise to debates among its German neighbors. The intention is for the first nuclear reactor, with a power output of up to 1.6 gigawatts, to be connected to the grid in 2033. A total of six nuclear power plants are planned, involving an investment of 30 billion euros. The government estimates that the total cost of restructuring the energy landscape will be around 1,600 billion zloty or 352 billion euros in the period up to 2040. The fact that the Polish people are prepared to share responsibility for the energy transition is indicated, among other things, by the success of the subsidy program for photovoltaic systems. Since 2019, households that install PV panels on their roofs have received a grant of 1,200 euros. As a result, 200,000 systems were fitted in the first year.
France: more wind and solar power
Almost 70 percent of France’s electricity requirements are currently covered by nuclear power plants. The plan is for their share of energy generation to fall to 50 percent by 2035. However, the government in Paris remains a supporter of nuclear power. For example, discussions are currently ongoing about extending the service life of some older reactors. But by 2030, the proportion of renewable energy will increase from its current figure of 25 percent to 33 percent. The country also aims to reduce its emissions by 40 percent by that time compared to 1990.
France is relying primarily on expanding onshore wind and photovoltaics. By 2029, the output of onshore wind farms will almost double from 17 gigawatts to around 33 gigawatts. The solar power output will treble or even quadruple from the existing figure of ten gigawatts by 2028. Offshore wind is not a feature of the energy landscape at the moment, but this will change. A power output of five to six gigawatts is planned by 2028. By contrast, the installed hydropower capacity of 25 gigawatts is unlikely to increase significantly. At the same time, by 2050 the French aim to bring about a massive reduction in their final energy consumption of 50 percent compared with 2012 levels.
Italy: massive expansion of photovoltaics
Italy’s plan is to reduce its CO2 emissions by 51 percent from 1990 levels by 2030. This will require a huge investment in expanding renewable energy production, which already accounted for around 48 percent of the electricity generated in 2020. The rest is supplied by fossil fuels, primarily gas. The country intends to shut down its coal-fired power stations by 2025. As much as 68 percent of its electricity will come from renewables by 2030. To achieve this, the government plans to install around 43 gigawatts of additional photovoltaic capacity. Wind power – mainly from offshore wind farms – will provide 23 gigawatts by 2030.
The new subsidy decree (FER2) will come into effect in September and is likely to provide support for biomass, biogas, and geothermal energy, among other things. In addition, Italy is the largest beneficiary of the European pandemic recovery plan and total funding of 5.9 billion euros will go into the expansion of renewable energy.
One special subsidy in Italy is the Superbonus, which provides support for conversion measures in homes. Anyone who increases the energy efficiency of their house, for example by installing better insulation or a more efficient heating system, receives a tax credit for 110 percent of the costs. A tax refund also available for fitting a photovoltaic system, for instance. The Italian government is making a further 15 billion euros available for the Superbonus program.
Finland: the industrial nation with the most ambitious climate targets
Finland has set itself more ambitious climate targets than any other nation. This country in the far north of Europe aims to be climate-neutral by 2035, making it the first industrial nation to dispense completely with fossil fuels. Currently these still make up 44 percent of the final energy consumption. However, 43 percent already comes from renewable sources and around half of this from hydropower. Wind and solar energy only play a minor role at this point. The remaining 13 percent of the final energy consumption is made up by nuclear power.
The country intends to rely on nuclear power plants in the future to achieve its climate targets. Four blocks are currently in operation in two locations. In 2029, a third site will be connected to the grid. The final phase-out of coal is planned for the same year. As a result, greenhouse gas emissions are expected to fall by 51 percent by 2030.
One special feature of life in Finland is peat. This is used primarily for heating and produces around 15 percent of the country’s overall annual CO2 emissions. For this reason, the Finnish government aims to reduce peat burning by 50 percent by 2030. One of the alternatives on offer is geothermal heating. In Espoo, the country’s second largest city, the world’s deepest commercial geothermal borehole was drilled in 2018 to a depth of 6,400 meters. The plan is to build a geothermal plant that will supply ten percent of the population with district heating and function as a pilot project for heating in Finland.
The Netherlands: wind replaces gas
The main energy source in the Netherlands is natural gas, which provided 43 percent of the country’s final energy consumption in 2020. The reason for this is the large gas deposits in the North Sea, but following serious earthquakes in some of the gas fields, the Dutch government has decided to phase out gas extraction by 2030. However, it is not yet clear whether this means that no more gas will be used.
But one thing is certain: 16 percent of the Dutch energy requirements will be covered by renewable sources by 2023. In 2019, this figure was 8.6 percent. The government is making 100 million euros of subsidies available for this purpose and 20 percent of this money will go into the expansion of wind power. This will play a key role in the future energy mix, because by 2030 the Netherlands aims to meet 40 percent of its energy requirements with wind turbines.
In the Netherlands, the national climate plan stipulates a 49 percent reduction in emissions compared to 1990 and the phase-out of coal-fired power plants by 2030. Wind as a replacement for gas seems an obvious choice in a country where the weather is windy, but the Netherlands is also an example of the innovative use of photovoltaics. In July 2021, two floating PV systems came into operation there. These consist of tens of thousands of solar modules floating on two unused quarry lakes. The systems supply around 20,000 people with electricity and are the largest of their kind outside Asia.