The scale of generation required isn’t feasible given the limited availability of space and raw materials.
Research has shown that Europe’s renewable generation potential vastly exceeds its needs even accounting for limited available space. Although demand for some materials will be increased by electrification, this additional demand is expected to be met by improvements to the supply chain, recycling and the use of alternative materials.
Although wind and solar power take up more space than conventional generation, modelling of land use needs shows that covering just 1% of European land would generate enough electricity to satisfy power demand. If 3% of the surface were used for solar PV, the EU’s entire energy demand could be supplied. While this might seem like a large number, ‘neglected surfaces’ such as industrial sites and parking lots could effectively alleviate the impact solar PV would have on the European landscape. In France alone, around 50 GW of solar PV could be built in such locations without impacting other land uses. In addition, the IEA estimates that the technical offshore wind potential of the European Union, explicitly considering geospatial restrictions, amounts to more than 36,000 TWh per year, more than 10 times current gross power demand in the EU. , This constitutes a legitimate alternative to land-based forms of renewable energy that would limit the spatial impact on the European landmass.
Turning to the raw material requirements, the deployment of wind turbines, photovoltaic parks and EVs all depend on raw material use. In particular, neodymium, indium, lithium, cobalt and graphite are all used in the above sectors. According to IRENA , most rare earth minerals are not geologically rare. However, the supply chains used to source these materials are very complex and mining and refining is currently concentrated in only a few countries. Nevertheless, technological innovations, the use of alternative materials, recycling and circular design can all help to diversify the options available. To help avoid supply bottlenecks, the EU already has initiatives in place to secure the future supply of the key raw materials like these.
P Ruiz et al., “ENSPRESO - an Open , EU-28 Wide , Transparent and Coherent Database of Wind , Solar and Biomass Energy Potentials,” Energy Strategy Reviews 26, no. September 2019: 100379, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.esr.2019.100379.
ADEME, “Évaluation Du Gisement Relatif Aux Zones Delaissees et Artificialisées Propices à l’Implantation de Centrales Photovoltaïques - Synthèse”, Transénergie, March 2019.
IEA, “Offshore Wind Outlook 2019: World Energy Outlook Special Report,” 2019.
Eurostat, “Electricity Generation Statistics - First Results,” no. June 2019 (2019): 1–7.
D. T. Blagoeva et al., Assessment of Potential Bottlenecks along the Materials Supply Chain for the Future Deployment of Low-Carbon Energy and Transport Technologies in the EU. Wind Power, Photovoltaic and Electric Vehicles Technologies, Time Frame: 2015-2030, 2016, https://doi.org/10.2790/08169.
IRENA, “A New World - The Geopolitics of the Energy Transformation,” Global Commission on the Geopolitics of Energy Transformation, 2019.
European Commission, “Study on the Review of the List of Critical Raw Materials,” 2017.