Is a 100% renewable European power system feasible by 2050?

William Zappa*, Martin Junginger, Machteld van den Broek

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


In this study, we model seven scenarios for the European power system in 2050 based on 100% renewable energy sources, assuming different levels of future demand and technology availability, and compare them with a scenario which includes low-carbon non-renewable technologies. We find that a 100% renewable European power system could operate with the same level of system adequacy as today when relying on European resources alone, even in the most challenging weather year observed in the period from 1979 to 2015. However, based on our scenario results, realising such a system by 2050 would require: (i) a 90% increase in generation capacity to at least 1.9 TW (compared with 1 TW installed today), (ii) reliable cross-border transmission capacity at least 140 GW higher than current levels (60 GW), (iii) the well-managed integration of heat pumps and electric vehicles into the power system to reduce demand peaks and biogas requirements, (iv) the implementation of energy efficiency measures to avoid even larger increases in required biomass demand, generation and transmission capacity, (v) wind deployment levels of 7.5 GW y−1 (currently 10.6 GW y−1) to be maintained, while solar photovoltaic deployment to increase to at least 15 GW y−1 (currently 10.5 GW y−1), (vi) large-scale mobilisation of Europe's biomass resources, with power sector biomass consumption reaching at least 8.5 EJ in the most challenging year (compared with 1.9 EJ today), and (vii) increasing solid biomass and biogas capacity deployment to at least 4 GW y−1 and 6 GW y−1 respectively. We find that even when wind and solar photovoltaic capacity is installed in optimum locations, the total cost of a 100% renewable power system (∼530 €bn y−1) would be approximately 30% higher than a power system which includes other low-carbon technologies such as nuclear, or carbon capture and storage (∼410 €bn y−1). Furthermore, a 100% renewable system may not deliver the level of emission reductions necessary to achieve Europe's climate goals by 2050, as negative emissions from biomass with carbon capture and storage may still be required to offset an increase in indirect emissions, or to realise more ambitious decarbonisation pathways.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1027-1050
Number of pages24
JournalApplied Energy
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Biomass
  • Power system
  • Renewable energy
  • Solar photovoltaic
  • System adequacy
  • Transmission


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