Europe could become climate neutral even before 2050, a new report by industry advocacy body SolarPower Europe and Finland’s LUT University has found.

The study, 100% Renewable Europe – How to make Europe’s energy system climate-neutral before 2050, presents three transition roadmaps with varying degrees of ambition, stressing a ‘low ambition pathway’ in Europe will be a burden for society, both from a climate change and economic perspective.

“SolarPower Europe and LUT University’s study comes at an important point in time, outlining the benefits of a 100% renewable energy pathway to achieve climate neutrality in a cost-effective way in Europe, even before 2050 and to make the European energy system less dependent and more resilient,” said Claude Turmes, Luxembourg’s energy minister.

SolarPower Europe president Aristotelis Chantavas added a 100% renewable energy system would make it possible for the EU to become climate neutral and comply with the 1.5°C Paris agreement target without resorting to carbon sinks.

“This leadership scenario will also trigger the sharpest decline in GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions, down to zero in 2040,” Chantavas said. “It also highlights the pivotal role of electrification to achieve a 100% renewable-based energy system, which will generate significant system efficiency gains and facilitate sectoral integration.

“With this report, we aim to contribute a new perspective to the discussion on how to enable a true European Green Deal.”

The EU so far has the ambition to push CO2 emissions to net-zero by 2050 through its ambitious €1trn ($1.1bn) Green Deal plan, which EU leaders recently said should be part of a coordinated approach for a recovery after the economic downturn triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic.

SolarPower Europe’s report suggests solar could generate more than 60% of the continent’s electricity by 2050, and stressed the role of green hydrogen in this.

“Electrolysers for hydrogen production are also a crucial technology for this scenario, as from 2030 onwards, renewable hydrogen will contribute to the full decarbonisation of the heat and transport sectors, becoming Europe’s second key energy carrier,” noted Michael Schmela, head of market intelligence at SolarPower Europe.

“Further, electricity storage is increasingly important in providing an uninterrupted energy supply, with batteries set to contribute up to 70% of storage.”

Under the reports two more ambitious scenarios (‘leadership’ and ‘moderate’), wind energy would account for 32-33% of Europe's power in 2050, while solar power would exceed 60%.

The report also includes demands for a 100% renewable transport sector using significant amounts of synthetic fuels for marine and aviation, as well as heat pumps at the core of a new green energy heating system.

The LUT energy system transition model used in the study is applied across an integrated energy system covering demand from power, heat, and transport sectors, which enables the modelling of cost-optimal energy system transition pathways on high levels of geo-spatial (20 regions in Europe) and temporal (hourly) resolutions.