Electrifying Europe (EEA) would not significantly reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions.
Electrification of final consumption entails considerable emission savings both due to inherent improvements in efficiency and as a result of the relatively low carbon intensity of electricity generation the EU, even now, which will improve further in future.
The electrification of industry, the building sector and transport displaces relatively carbon-intensive existing sources of energy with electricity that is not only presently cleaner, but will continue to become even cleaner in the future. CO2 emissions in the power sector have decreased by almost 30% since 1990 in the EU and the bloc’s reference scenario for 2030, which achieves a 32% share of renewable energy in gross final energy consumption, implies that the carbon-intensity of average electricity and steam generation will fall by a further 5.7% each year between 2020-30. As a result, electrification directly reduces the emissions intensity of these sectors. Commitments to even higher climate ambitions in the European Green Deal will further speed up the complete decarbonisation of the power sector.
Even ignoring these future improvements, electrification today can lower GHG emissions substantially. Life-cycle analyses show that with the electricity mix of most European countries, e.g. France or the UK, carbon savings would already be achieved through electrification. Only in few countries, notably Poland or Estonia, would the uptake of electric heat pumps or EVs not lead to immediate savings . Still, in the coming years, power generation in these countries will become clean enough to realise emissions savings via electrification.
Importantly, the relatively clean nature of power is not the only means by which electrification reduces emissions. In many cases electrification directly enables energy efficiency. Modern gas boilers, for example, are capable of achieving impressive efficiencies approaching 90%. However, these are nothing compared to the roughly 300% efficiency achieved by air source heat pumps, which can output more heat than the actual amount of electricity consumed. Sources of efficiency like these enable electrification to support emissions reductions even where the source of electricity used is not carbon-free.
European Commission, “Technical Note: Results of the EUCO3232.5 Scenario on Member States,” 2019, https://ec.europa.eu/energy/sites/ener/files/technical_note_on_the_euco3232_final_14062019.pdf.
Bloomberg New Energy Finance, “Sector Coupling in Europe: Powering Decarbonisation,” 2020, https://data.bloomberglp.com/professional/sites/24/BNEF-Sector-Coupling-Report-Feb-2020.pdf.
Diaz Vazquez and Van Dingenen, Global Energy and Climate Outlook 2019 : Electrification for the Low-Carbon Transition, 2020, https://doi.org/10.2760/58255.
Daniel Steinberg et al., “Electrification and Decarbonization: Exploring U.S. Energy Use and Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Scenarios with Widespread Electrification and Power Sector Decarbonization,” July (2017), https://doi.org/10.2172/1372620.
Knobloch, F., S. Hanssen, and A. Lam, “Net Emission Reductions from Electric Cars and Heat Pumps in 59 World Regions over Time.,” Nature Sustainability, 2020, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-020-0488-7.
Currie & Brown, “The Costs and Benefits of Tighter Standards for New Buildings,” 2019, 27–28, https://www.theccc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/The-costs-and-benefits-of-tighter-standards-for-new-buildings-Currie-Brown-and-AECOM.pdf.