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Early, steady investment in wind, solar best way to decarbonize economy

Significantly scaling up wind and solar energy -- sooner and faster -- is key to preventing catastrophic increases in global temperatures, researchers say. panels on a roof top. File Photo by Craig Russell/Shutterstock
Significantly scaling up wind and solar energy -- sooner and faster -- is key to preventing catastrophic increases in global temperatures, researchers say. panels on a roof top. File Photo by Craig Russell/Shutterstock

Dec. 4 (UPI) -- To decarbonize the economy, European researchers recommend early, steady efforts to "electrify" economic sectors with wind and solar energy.

For the study, researchers at Aarhus University used high-resolution data to model the decarbonization of the sector-coupled European energy system -- that is the energy that heats and cools buildings, fuels transport and powers industry.

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To meet the Paris Agreement target of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, economies around the world must find a way to wean themselves off fossil fuels and replace dirty energy sources with green power, researchers say.

The authors of the latest study -- published Friday in the journal Nature Communications -- already knew as much. What they wanted to figure out is whether or not there was an ideal strategy for rolling out green energy investment.

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To find out, researchers used Aarhus University's supercomputer PRIME to simulate the modification of the energy system's interconnected sectors.

"We ask the question of which energy strategy to employ in order to reach the 2050 goal. We have a 'carbon budget' -- a maximum amount of CO2 we can emit -- and how do we make sure, that by 2050 we reach climate-neutrality in the cheapest and most feasible way?" lead study author Marta Victoria said in a news release.

The models designed by Victoria and her colleagues considered two basic strategies: early and steady or late and rapid.

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"Our model clearly shows that the cost optimized solution is to act now -- to be ambitious in the short term. And we find solar energy and onshore and offshore wind to be the cost optimized cornerstone in a fully decarbonized 2050 energy system," said Victoria, a photovoltaics expert and assistant professor in the engineering department at Aarhus.

Victoria acknowledged that, whether steadily or rapidly, decarbonizing the economy will a significant challenge. Even the early and steady strategy will require periods of aggressive -- rapid, even -- installation and adoption of wind and solar energy.

"In some years, we will have to install more than a 100 Gigawatts of solar PV and wind power, and to achieve full decarbonization the CO2 prices will have to be a lot higher than today," she said.

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For this transition from fossil fuels to green energy to make economic sense, researchers suggest the price of carbon will need to be rather quickly increased.

And even as more and more wind and solar power sources are brought online, the energy system will still need to rely on gas power during so-called "nightmare weeks" when frigid temperatures trigger peaks in energy demands.

"District heating systems are efficient for very cold and critical periods where electricity demand and heating demand is high, but wind and solar energy production is low," Victoria said. "Large hot water tanks discharge during those weeks. This way we make sure, that the future energy systems works for every possible scenario."

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