Low-Cost Pathways to a Carbon-Neutral Energy System

Jülich, 31 October 2019 – Germany is aiming to achieve broad greenhouse gas neutrality by 2050. In order to reach this goal, the energy system has to be completely transformed in all areas, whether that be the energy sector, construction, industry, or transport. A new study by Forschungszentrum Jülich presented in Berlin today shows how this project of the century can be made to be efficient and economically beneficial. The study is based on detailed calculations performed with the help of a whole range of newly developed computer models.

The study, which looks at cost-efficient and climate-friendly transformation strategies for the German energy system by 2050, paints a detailed picture of an almost carbon-neutral Germany in 2050. In this scenario, wind farms and photovoltaic plants produce almost six times as much electricity as they do today. Hydrogen is a major energy carrier, with 12 million tonnes consumed each year, while heat pumps have become the main technology for heating. Other significant details include underground hydrogen storage vessels that ensure a secure energy supply even when there is not enough sun or wind for days at a time; elsewhere, electricity plays a key role in every sector, and biomass and biogas make up a quarter of Germany’s energy demand.

Course needs to be set early

However, Germany has not unambiguously committed itself to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of 95 % by 2050. Instead, it has agreed upon a reduction in a target range between 80 and 95 %. Because of this, Jülich’s energy systems analysts have not just looked at the 95 % scenario. They also calculated how the German energy system can be optimized for the less ambitious 80 % target in as cost-effective a way as possible. Their results show that measures that are needed to reach an 80 % target are not necessarily required in a strategy that results in a reduction of 95 %. In certain cases, they may even be counterproductive.

“That is why we need to set a course early on – which will also prevent the need to move to more expensive transformation pathways later,” says head of the study Dr. Martin Robinius from Jülich’s subinstitute for Techno-Economic Systems Analysis. It will be barely possible, for instance, to implement the expansion of wind power and photovoltaics needed for the 95 % target if that expansion is not pursued today with sufficient intensity. “Because only the 95 % target ultimately comes close to carbon neutrality, we recommend beginning with all pending short- to medium-term measures for reducing greenhouse gases and focusing them on this goal immediately,” says Prof. Detlef Stolten, director at Techno-Economic Systems Analysis.

Energiestudie Szenario 95
Forschungszentrum Jülich

Renewables and energy efficiency: key for the energy transition

The study shows two clear phases on the road to 2050 for both the 80 % and 95 % scenarios. To make the energy transition as cost-effective as possible, work should start immediately on building new wind power and photovoltaic plants above all else by 2035, and at the same time energy efficiency in all consumption sectors should be greatly improved by that same year. Next, all technologies still running on fossil energy carriers in the industry, transport, and construction sectors must be rapidly and resolutely electrified or converted to using bioenergy by 2050.

Energy transition will reduce dependence on imported energy

Another important aspect shown by the study is that the measures involved in the energy transition will prompt a major reduction in energy imports. Even in the future, it won’t be possible to get by without any energy imports at all. These will be renewable energy carriers such as synthetic fuels or hydrogen. However, compared to the amount of energy imported today, future imports will be much lower.

Annual transformation costs equal to cost of energy imports today

According to the calculations by the Jülich scientists, the additional costs of transforming the energy system for the 80 % target in 2050 will be around 1.1 % of the expected GDP. For the ambitious target of a 95 % reduction, the share of the costs is 2.8 %. The additional annual costs are approximately equal to the current expenditure on energy imports, which was around 1.9 % of GDP in 2018. “The transformation of the German energy sector brings with it considerable investment costs. However, the cost of this transformation can be planned and managed, while the cost of adapting to climate change after the fact is uncertain and could be many times higher,” comments Robinius.

Upon the study’s presentation, Thomas Rachel, member of the German Bundestag and Parliamentary State Secretary to the Federal Minister of Education and Research, said: “When we are talking about climate change mitigation, we need to make citizens a part of the process and to convince them of our findings. The Jülich study shows us how we can sustainably transform our industrialized society while protecting our environment and maximizing cost efficiency. This knowledge will help considerably in allowing us to reach the important climate goals that we have committed ourselves to.”

Unique family of models

The innovative family of computer models on which the study is based maps the entire German energy supply across all consumption sectors, from the energy source through every conceivable path to the energy that is ultimately used – together with the costs. The models go into an extraordinary level of detail in terms of time and space. For example, one of the models can analyse the whole of Europe and predict how much renewable energy is available – hour by hour and for every longitude and latitude.

A summary of the study as a PDF file (43 pages), a handout (6 pages), and presentations from the public launch of the study on 31 October are available on the website of the Institute of Energy and Climate Research – Techno-Economic Systems Analysis.

Further Information:

Three questions for Martin Robinius, head of the Energy System 2050 study


Prof. Dr. Detlef Stolten
Forschungszentrum Jülich
Institute of Energy and Climate Research, Techno-Economic Systems Analysis (IEK-3)
Tel.: +49 2461 61-3076
E-Mail: d.stolten@fz-juelich.de

Dr. Martin Robinius
Forschungszentrum Jülich
Institute of Energy and Climate Research, Techno-Economic Systems Analysis (IEK-3)
Tel.: +49 2461 61-3077
E-Mail: m.robinius@fz-juelich.de


Erhard Zeiss
Press officer, Forschungszentrum Jülich
Tel.: +49 2461 61-1841
E-Mail: e.zeiss@fz-juelich.de

Regine Panknin
Press officer, Forschungszentrum Jülich
Tel.: +49 2461 61-9054
E-Mail: r.panknin@fz-juelich.de

Last Modified: 22.05.2022