Europe’s plan to cut off fuel imports from Russia and accelerate renewable energy production depends on its ability to find minerals, metals and other components needed for abrupt change to clean energy.
The program, recently developed by the European Commission, accelerates the continent’s historic move towards wind and solar energy, while increasing the continent’s natural gas resources, diversification and energy efficiency.
But the cost of achieving these goals can be high.
Rapid change to renewable energy depends on Europe’s ability to extract or import materials needed to build clean energy technologies; Materials such as copper, lithium and cobalt.
This is at a time when supply chains are under pressure in the face of increasing demand for renewable energy worldwide.
Kevin Book, CEO Clear View Energy Partners (ClearView Energy Partners) says, “Something we’re talking about doing is the transition from variable cost fluctuations in hydrocarbons to fixed cost fluctuations in construction materials and metals; “Transition from European domestic capacity limits for hydrocarbon production to European internal capacity limits for full generation and deployment of the renewable energy value chain.”
“These are choices that change the risks and the details are very important,” he added.
The program is based on a set of rules that will reduce Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030 to zero emissions by the middle of the century.
The plan aims to increase Europe’s renewable energy from the current 40% to 45% of total energy by 2030. This means an increase in renewable energy production of more than 1,200 gigawatts in eight years.
The European Commission estimates that by the end of this year, two-thirds of the continent’s gas imports will be cut off if the European Union can achieve its short-term goals. The goal is to end these imports by the end of the decade.
According to Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, “We are taking our ambition to the next level to ensure that we do not need Russian fossil fuels as soon as possible.”
Some experts say more details are needed to determine if these goals can be achieved.
According to New report From the Eurometaux Group of Metallurgical Industries and the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, Europe could face a shortage of clean energy supplies or the risk of new dependencies on unsustainable suppliers.
According to the report, Europe’s goal of zero emissions by 2050 requires 35% copper and 45% silicon – a key element in solar panels – more than the continent consumes today.
At the same time, demand for lithium could increase 35-fold (over 800,000 tonnes) and demand for other trace metals could increase by up to 26%. Demand for cobalt and nickel can rise by 330 and 100 percent, respectively.
These materials are needed to make electric cars, batteries, wind turbines and solar panels; Key products to achieve Europe’s ambitious goal of eliminating greenhouse gas emissions.
One International Energy ProgramRecently released, also confirms these supply chain risks.
According to the program, “while the European Union intends to end its dependence on Russian energy, it is equally determined to avoid future dependencies. “By reducing the demand for fossil fuels, increasing demand for raw materials, including trace elements and metals, could lead to new supply challenges in the energy transmission pathway.”
The European Union’s program coincides with the world approaching energy limits that scientists say could cause irreversible climate effects.
Sea level rise, greenhouse gas and heat concentrations, and ocean acidification, according to Annual Report of the World Meteorological OrganizationAll broke records last year.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres responded to the report by calling for massive renewable energy production.
“We need to increase the supply of vital components and raw materials for safe, renewable and diversified renewable energy technologies,” he said. He points to how raw materials and renewable energy supply chains are concentrated in the hands of a few limited countries.
“The age of renewal will not flourish without bridging this huge gap,” he added.
Competition for resources
The EU’s energy program identifies ways to avoid trade dependence by encouraging mining and refining within Europe and the recovery of metals and waste. It also points to the potential for strategic cooperation and new trade agreements for raw materials with African and Latin American countries.
One challenge, especially for solar energy, will be to increase the production of solar panels and other related components in Europe.
Although the EU’s program is to finance domestic production, it will be difficult to overcome the competitive advantages of production in China and Southeast Asia.
In the case of raw materials, Europe can use some metals such as aluminum and copper in its power grids. But mining projects in Europe – as well as renewable energy constructions such as offshore winds – have faced resistance from local communities and green groups.
Scheduling is also a challenge. New mines – if any – will take years to be licensed and developed before they can be commissioned. Historical energy prices can also limit the ability to refine metals used in energy technologies.
And these delays are significant on a large scale.
According to Book, “2030 is in the field of infrastructure tomorrow.”
Even so, many of the minerals Europe needs, such as cobalt, nickel and rare earths, must be imported.
Proposed laws requiring European companies to avoid human rights abuses and environmental degradation in their supply chains could impose supply restrictions.
And now we come to this big hurdle: Europe imports a large part of its cobalt, aluminum and nickel from Russia.
“Europe wants to diversify its suppliers and create a rotating economy so that materials in Europe can be recycled and reused,” said Bram Claeys, a consultant on the Regulatory Cooperation Project, a non-profit organization focusing on clean energy transfers.
Supply chain bottlenecks and geopolitical uncertainties can pose additional challenges.
A new report by the World Energy Organization shows that renewable energy production this year could break world records. But growth is expected to fall in 2023 due to a lack of supply and slow licensing.
Investing for the future
The European Commission’s plan is based on an ambitious proposal in March that many were not optimistic about.
The European Commission has published other strategies in addition to this program.
One part of the plan is to more than double the current solar capacity by 2025 to 320 gigawatts and install 600 gigawatts of solar power equipment by the end of the decade.
According to the plan, from 2025, the installation of solar panels on the roof will be mandatory for commercial and public buildings, and from 2029 for all residential buildings.
In addition, Denmark, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands have promised to increase their offshore wind capacity capacity from the current 15 gigawatts to 150 gigawatts by 2050 – despite a long license period that has slowed wind energy development.
The European Commission has also recommended measures to speed up the complex licensing process and designate areas with low environmental risk for the development of renewable energy.
Dries Acke, Director of Policy Solarpower Europe Group“Adequate supply of raw and processed materials is necessary for energy transfer,” he says.
The group represents 260 organizations in the solar energy sector and has invested more in domestic production and the removal of trade barriers to facilitate access to raw materials and components in the production of photovoltaic solar panels.
According to Ake, while work has been done to determine what raw materials are needed to realize Europe’s ambitions for clean energy, a critical vision of raw materials for European solar energy and their availability is needed.
Recycling can be a solution.
According to a study by the University of Leuven, local recycling of metals used in wind turbines and machines can supply 75% of Europe’s clean energy needs, but that will not be possible by 2040. After this point, further development will depend on Europe’s ability to invest in recycling operations at the present time and to prevent the transfer of waste metals to other countries.
Labor shortages are also a problem – and the EU program is addressing this with a specialized training program.
“Installers in Europe and other international markets are reporting the difficulty of finding a skilled workforce to build and install projects,” says Ake.
Concurrent with these ambitions on the part of the European Union, some members of the European Union have increased their renewable energy targets.
Germany now plans to meet 100% of its electricity needs from renewable sources by 2035; That is 5 years earlier than the previous plan. And the Netherlands wants to double its offshore wind power generation to 20 gigawatts by 2030.
These goals require more materials, and other parts of the world intend to increase their renewable capacity.
According to some experts, solutions to this problem are available.
“Everyone is aware of the current product cycle and rising prices,” said Jon Creyts, RMI Program Manager. “And some of these ascents can be overcome with simple investment.”
According to him, in the field of lithium, not enough capital has been invested to extract it on the required scale. This is different from cobalt: Cobalt resources are concentrated in a few places in the world, but their extraction has raised a variety of ethical and environmental concerns.
“So as long as governments are focused on these issues, we need to understand and follow these characteristics and make sure that the trade in these minerals is done fairly,” Critz said.
“But the more important thing is to invest in alternatives and make sure we can break free from our dependence on cobalt and nickel and other substances that impose significant constraints on energy transfer.”