A recent report authoured by Accenture for EURELECTRIC says that if European nations work together towards an integrated and pan-European energy policy it could generate savings for electricity consumers between €27 to €81 billion per year by 2030 and the result would be a cleaner utility grid model.
Accenture is calling on European governments to phase-out renewable energy targets and renewable energy programme spending — replacing both with a carbon trading scheme, one that essentially rewards low carbon energy producers and penalizes high carbon energy producers.
All of this is happening during a time of unprecedented change within the European energy industry.
In the fascinating German example, that country shut down much of its nuclear power generation rather than spend multi-billions to upgrade its aging and oft-troubled nuclear fleet. Consequently, Germany is now burning record amounts of coal and natural gas to replace that lost generation capacity — in addition to the installation of record amounts of wind, solar and biomass capacities to the German grid.
In the decades following WWII, German utility companies operated in a cozy, sheltered environment. But few knew how expensive it was to operate and maintain on account of massive government subsidies and preferential treatment of the utility industry. German consumers never had it so good and likewise for sleepy German energy giants, which have now awoken to find that the energy picture has changed dramatically in little over a decade.
Hence, even more subsidies were employed to counter for the loss of German nuclear power via Feed-in-Tariffs (FiT) for wind, solar and biomass capacity additions to the grid, partially financed by a hefty nuclear decommissioning fee added to every German electricity bill.
At least in Germany, it turns out that while nuclear has practically disappeared, and with no fuel costs to worry about, renewable energy combined to lower German electricity rates during the hours of the day that wind and solar are active, causing downward pressure on electricity rates. At the same time, German utilities burned record amounts of brown coal and expensive Russian natural gas to meet total demand which caused upward spikes in the electricity rate during the hours of the day that coal and natural gas were required to meet total demand.
In simple terms, the removal of nuclear from the German energy mix has resulted in higher electricity rates — not because some of that capacity was replaced by renewable energy — but because significant fossil fuel burning was required to meet demand, combined with nuclear decommissioning costs.
Were German politicians and their voters wrong to shut down the country’s nuclear power plants? Not a bit. Germany’s nuclear power plants were problem-plagued and the costs to bring all 19 reactors up to modern standards were prohibitive. Shutting down the German nuclear fleet was unfortunate perhaps, but necessary.
German consumers continue to yearn for clean energy and low energy costs. Unsurprisingly, the German public has reacted to energy that seems to be getting dirtier and more expensive by the day, and the massive nuclear decommissioning costs which will continue long past 2022, perhaps until 2045.
After the loss of nuclear, the German energy grid initially became cleaner with the addition of wind and solar, but then became dirtier than ever as record amounts of brown coal and natural gas were burned! Es ist zum weinen.
And that’s just the story in Germany. Every European partner country has its own story to tell in an electricity market that is undergoing unprecedented and rapid change — and each country’s electricity market is as different from each other as they are from the German example. Although each story is different, the net result is the same; The energy industry across Europe must adapt to the loss of (some) nuclear and the growing consumer disenchantment with fossil fuels, and to the huge consumer driven additions of renewable energy to the grid. And it must be done in a cost-effective way or utility companies and their respective governments will face consumer backlash.
Utility companies shocked by the unprecedented and rapid changes thrust upon them by nuclear shutdowns and the multiple demands of consumers are hoping that a harmonized set of rules across Europe will allow them to meet rising electricity demand.
If you look at what utilities really want, it is one harmonized set of rules across Europe. Europe is one market; it’s one playing field, and utilities really benefit from a harmonized set of rules.
It is like playing football; if you play football,you don’t want different rules for different parts of the field. — Sander van Ginkel, Managing Director, Accenture Utilities
“European electricity prices are rising fast. As a result, the overall increase in energy expenditure is putting mounting pressure on residential end-users and undermining the competitiveness of European industry. The implementation of the energy transition has so far lacked optimization on a pan-European scale. Without a concerted effort to more effectively manage the costs of the energy transition, expenditure on electricity and gas in 2030 could be 50 percent higher than it is today.
A step-change in the reshaping of the European energy system is needed — by reconfirming the European power sector’s support for Europe’s sustainability agenda through an optimized approach that avoids unnecessary costs. Doing so would put significant benefits within reach: our analysis shows that implementing an integrated set of levers could generate net savings of €27 to €81 billion per year by 2030. Such savings could be achieved by further integrating energy markets and the supporting regulatory framework at a European level and by leveraging flexibility throughout the electricity value chain — provided utilities, governments, regulators and consumers can forge a joint commitment to work together.” — Quoted from the Accenture/EURELECTRIC report
Accenture’s report says that Europe’s utilities must meet customer demands for more energy, but make it cheaper and cleaner and that the existing grid model will fail unless changes are made. Accenture has suggested four main ways to achieve these goals.
Optimizing renewable energy systems
Active system management
Demand response and energy saving
“The restructuring of the European electricity system will have to be carried out cost-effectively if we are to gain the support and trust of energy consumers. This study shows that, with the right policies in place, the energy transition could cost each European citizen over € 100 less a year than if we continue with business as usual.” Hans ten BERGE Secretary General. Union of the Electricity Industry – EURELECTRIC
It seems reasonable that all of Europe’s utility companies acting together could arrive at a better solution. Complementary and overlapping energy capabilities may prove to be the model that works for Europe, as opposed to the direct competition model favoured in the U.S.
A carbon tax which reflects the true societal costs of fossil fuels could be a just solution to Europe’s present grid malaise. However, it is doubtful that a carbon tax will ever reflect the true cost to society of fossil fuels — which have been estimated to cost €30 per tonne of CO2 — but a carbon mechanism may well provide the impetus to foster a new and better European energy paradigm.
No matter the how the equation looks, it is sometimes only the answer that matters. A cleaner energy mix and reasonable electricity rates within a stable electricity grid is something that all sides can cheer for. How very European!
See the Accenture video (click here)