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Decarbonising electricity, decarbonising Europe: the way forward Summary

Making Europe Carbon-Neutral by 2050: the Vision of the Electricity Industry

Friday, 13th February, EU Sustainable Energy Week


The second part of the workshop focussed on opportunities and efforts to expand the use of electro-technologies in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a number of key sectors.

  1. "Electricity drives cleaner": decarbonising the transport sector with electricity

Thomas Theisen of RWE, who chairs Thomas the EURELECTRIC Task Force on Electric Vehicles, set out the numerous advantages of electric transport in comparison to other means of road mobility. The electric vehicle (EV) owner can expect to save money on total running cost (TRC) - especially when the oil price rises again - electricity is the best choice in terms of energy efficiency per kilometre, and progressive reductions in the CO2 intensity of electric power will continue to improve the climate-environmental performance of EVs.  Meanwhile, in contrast to other “alternative” fuel rivals to the internal combustion engine, refuelling infrastructure is already available in the form of the electricity grid, Mr Theisen told the audience. The existing grid structure would be able to accommodate EVs totalling 10% of the present total car fleet in Europe, and even if 100% of car drivers in the EU-27 were to switch to EVs tomorrow, which is very unlikely to happen overnight, that would only raise electricity consumption from today’s 3,100TWh to 3,570 TWh – an increase of just 15%. 

The key challenge to foster a mass market in EVs now to create a standardised re-charging system across Europe, including a common standard for connection that can cope with different voltages, plus compatible IT platform – avoiding sunk costs in proprietary standards that may have to change later - and provision of adequate numbers of parking stations with charging posts.  To achieve all this, electricity companies need to partner with automotive manufacturers, but politicians, regulators and local authorities must be brought into the loop as well, Mr Theisen pointed out.  The EURELECTRIC Task Force is working to bring all relevant parties together and ensure that “all stakeholders are driving in the same direction”. he told the audience.

Meanwhile, to ensure the climate-benefits of low-carbon electricity are full exploited, work is needed on the electricity grids to facilitate the integration of greater quantities of renewables-based power, underlined Mr Theisen.

Viviane Raddatz, Transport Policy Officer at WWF, agreed that although the transport sector will remain dependent on the internal combustion engine for quite some time “EVs are the way to go”. Nevertheless, she warned that EVs are not a “silver bullet” solving all environmental issues in the transport sector. They must be “part of a systemic approach” involving new thinking, a modal shift away from road (and air travel for shorter journeys) and towards the electric train where possible, plus an approach to electricity generation based on renewable energy and better management of power grids, argued Ms Raddatz.  

In terms of transport policy. Ms Raddatz recognised the cost-barrier to purchasing an EV and argued the need for proper fiscal incentives – basing taxes on energy performance, not on old-fashioned engine capacity figures, but pointed to lack of coherence between EU and national competence and policy.

On energy policy, Ms Raddatz stressed the need for proper load management of the grid to cope with peaks in power demand that may arise when millions of EVs start to plug into the network. Care must be taken that the extra demand does not result in the building/despatch of “old-fashioned coal-fired power plants”. The extra electricity capacity needed should come from renewable sources if the EV concept is to have a real effect on climate change. The aim should be zero carbon emissions from transport, she argued.

Florian Wunsch, Zero-Emission Mobility Manager at Nissan International, told the workshop that “there is no need on the automotive side for further pilots and tests. We now know what we want.”  His company is planning to roll out the first mass-market fully electric hatchback vehicle in 2010 and the principle will be that “the customer will not have to make any sacrifices in size, speed or comfort” by committing to green mobility. The car should be a standard, high-performance road vehicle manufactured on a sufficient scale to ensure profitability.  The purchase cost of an EV is currently higher than an internal combustion engine (ICE) rival, but that should be compensated through low fuel cost, said Mr Wunsch, stressing that fully-electric – not hybrid ICE/electric – “is the right way to go” as the EV “has the highest on-board fuel efficiency.”

Mr Wunsch pointed out that the battery technology is the crucial element in design and development what is needed is specific laminated automotive batteries - and the company has made considerable investments in this area. However this is a heavy upfront cost and so the battery must be leased. Nevertheless, the current lack of systematic approach to battery technology rules out for the moment a system of quick battery drop-off and pick-up points.

Mr Wunsch outlined three factors which will allow the mass deployment of EVs:
-  breakthrough in battery technology and cost  
- social acceptance of electric transport: need for broad public education on the climate/emissions issues, a general image upgrade and greater public trust in energy availability, which calls for “close collaboration between the different stakeholders.”
- total cost of ownership: upfront costs should decrease with scale and time, while the fuel cost should prove clearly advantageous.

2. Electricity in heating and cooling

Niko Wirgentius, Director at Helsingin Energia in Finland, explained the energy efficiency gains and greenhouse gas reductions to be obtained through the use of electric heat pump technology in district heating and district cooling.

Heat pump transfers apply a simple, effective technology, using in the Helsinki system a liquid medium – sea water for cooling and sewage water for heating – to transfer heat to heat customers and the resulting cool medium to supply cooling to the customers who require this, all in the same process.  Replacing heat-only production in the city of Helsinki – requiring 400GWh, equal to 30 million litres of oil, annually – produces primary energy savings and CO2 savings amounting to some 100,000 tonnes per year, equivalent to around 500 million km by car, Mr Wirgentius told the workshop.

Mr Wirgentius explained that while there are better technologies in specific areas – for instance a gas-fired combined heat & power plant performs better on just heating – the heat pump approach is more efficient than the European average for heating & cooling. Once the overall electricity supply becomes carbon-neutral, heat pumps “will be an unbeatable heating & cooling solution”, he argued. The future target should therefore be “use of heat pumps and zero-carbon electricity,” he concluded.

3. Electricity in industrial processes

Peter Weldingh, Departmental Manager for Consultancy department Lokalenergi Handel in Denmark, explained the “Pulse Anodizing” approach as a way to save energy and to increase production. Anodizing is an electrolytic process that increases the thickness of the oxide layer on the surface of metal parts, increasing surface hardness and allowing colouring, lubrication or better adhesion.

Use of Pulse Anodizing versus the traditional voltage and current control reduces process time, saving 30% of energy and simultaneously increasing production by 50%, Mr Weldingh told the audience.

Decarbonising electricity, decarbonising Europe: the way forward Summary
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