Massive increases in renewable energy generation mean that we must start planning now for how to manage seasonal gaps with economic, low carbon solutions when there is not enough wind and solar power to meet peak demand.
This change in how we generate the bulk of electricity from fossil fuel to renewable sources will create significant economic, technological and policy challenges for the energy industry and European governments.
As EV concentration increases, EV charging infrastructure deployment runs into existing grid limitations in the shape of sub-stations, transformers and cables sizing, as it has been doing in Norway in recent years. Being able to time EV charging according to the energy system requirements will significantly lower the system costs by avoiding grid upgrades and providing flexibility to absorb variable renewables cost-effectively, as demonstrated in the BNEF study on high renewables energy systems flexibility solutions sponsored by Eaton and Statkraft.
A large increase of demand-response, storage and smart charging of EVs can substantially mitigate intermittency issues in a high renewables energy system. However, it cannot completely address it – there will still be weeks and months of low variable renewables (solar and wind) production that require long-term backup capacity. Other uses for fossil fuels will also remain such as petrochemicals, or some types of transport.
A zero-carbon scenario would require lower carbon substitutes for fossil fuels given doubts about the cost and viability of nuclear power and the need to retain dispatchable on-demand power sources for long periods as well as light-weight, dense energy sources for specific use cases. Possible substitutes could include synthetic fuels, based on a combination of Hydrogen obtained from water hydrolysis (itself rendered inexpensive by surplus renewables generation) and captured / recovered CO2. However, we won’t reach this point for some time so research and early-stage investment into such technologies would require sustained public support.