Europe handed 'fastest way' to escape Putin's grip by harnessing 'cheapest electricity'

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A new report has found solar power could be the key to helping the European Union end its reliance on Russian gas quickly. A new analysis by Statkraft found that in a “low emissions scenario”, Europe will have significantly more solar power by 2030 than expected before the war in Ukraine. EU countries have been scrambling to phase out Russian gas supplies, as Russian President Vladimir Putin has manipulated gas supplies in retaliation to Western sanctions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. With gas now in short supply, the energy-starved continent in turning towards renewables like solar power, which can produce electricity at a much cheaper rate than natural gas. 

Statkraft wrote: “Along with wind power, solar power is asserted as the crucial renewable technology to reduce the European Union’s dependence on Russian gas and cut emissions.”

They estimated an average yearly increase of solar capacity in the EU of between 45 and 52 GW towards 2030, which is significantly higher than the 33 GW per year analysts predicted before the invasion of Ukraine. This in turn is almost twice the record 26 GW of solar power that was installed in 2021. 

They wrote: “Compared to other renewable energy technologies, solar power is cost-efficient and construction can take less than two years. Solar power is seen as the winner in the energy transition.”

The report also predicts that by 2035, solar will become the world’s largest source of power generation, outpacing offshore wind, nuclear, and fossil fuels like oil and natural gas. 

Christian Rynning-Tønnesen, President and Chief Executive Officer at Statkraft, said: “In an energy system with much more weather-dependent renewable energy such as wind and solar, there is an increased need for flexible solutions that can help balance consumption and production.

“Hydropower‘s unique ability to store water will provide both short- and long-term flexibility, and can be upgraded to achieve an even more important role in the future.

“In the Low Emissions Scenario, we see that the best measures to solve the ongoing energy crisis are the same measures that are crucial to fighting the climate crisis. A greater focus on energy security and energy self-sufficiency will also drive the green energy transition.”

Under their Low Emissions Scenario, renewable energy is poised to account for almost 80 percent of the world’s total power generation in 2050. Solar power would lead the way here, generating over 21,000 TWh, equivalent to 80 percent of the world’s power demand today.

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According to the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2020, the world’s best solar power schemes now offer the “cheapest…electricity in history” with the technology cheaper than coal and gas in most major countries.

Given that this report was published in 2020, before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sent wholesale gas prices soaring, the disparity between solar power and natural gas is now even steeper, with some estimates placing the renewable as up to nine times cheaper than current gas prices.

Dr Simon Cran-McGreehin, the Head of Analysis at ECIU told “The dramatic fall in the cost of solar power – up to nine times cheaper than from electricity from gas – is no doubt one of the reasons for solar being the UK’s most popular generation technology, with 87 percent public support.

“And as well as offering lower costs, by generating 40 percent of our electricity, renewables such as solar and wind are cutting our reliance on gas power plants and so reducing our vulnerability to gas shortages this winter.

“And yet oddly the Government seems unsupportive of this opportunity for growth, potentially banning solar on farms, despite it taking up a tiny amount of land and many farmers being keen to make use of their least productive land to generate cheap electricity and a new income stream.”

Former Prime Minister Liz Truss was very critical of solar panels, proposing a ban on solar panels being put on 58 percent of agricultural land.

This move has sparked fury among green critics who argue solar power is a “win-win for energy and food security” which may help to slash energy bills amid a crisis.

With former Chancellor Rishi Sunak now Prime Minister, it is unclear whether the ban would still be rolled out.

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