The REEEM project sheds light on a number of pervasive issues pertaining to the transition of the EU energy system to one that is low carbon, equitable and economically competitive. Various characteristics associated with the transition have been identified e.g. economy, people’s behaviour, material resources, and the implications for different sectors. The outcome of this analysis is to provide a knowledge base for different stakeholders across a range of critical issues for the low carbon transition. That knowledge base is constituted by three types of outputs: data, analytical tools and insights.
From a policy-maker’s point of view, insights into the feasibility of different strategies, including multi-faceted trade-offs that need to be considered across environmental, social and economic domains. The research also provides sketches of how the future of the energy system may unfold, dynamics between different parts of the system, and the opportunities that emerge. For example, an energy intensive industry whose activity within the European Union is expected to be negatively affected, may start exploring (clearly identified) market opportunities related to the decarbonisation process. Or workers might be trained move to growth areas freely within the union.
From a general audience’s perspective, the transparent approach adopted in the analysis, the representation of key dynamics though accessible tools and the presentation of key messages increases accessibility to a level exceeding preceding project. It is hoped that this may increase trust in science-based approaches to planning and increase engagement. Lastly, researchers, energy analysts, academics and private consultants are provided with a comprehensive set of data, and a modelling and assessment framework with related research infrastructure. This can be built on, reworked or targeted to assess how aspects related to their own field of expertise are expected to unfold and actively provide feedback.
Further, REEEM deliberately adds to the knowledge created under previous and parallel actions at a number of levels. And seeks to make future work easier.
The integrated modelling framework used for the analysis of decarbonisation pathways is flexible and shaped around the challenges of interest for the realisation of the Energy Union and those brought about by stakeholders. It is modified throughout the project (and can be modified in the future), while maintaining scientific rigor and consistency in the analysis. It is not locked into a structure defined a priori by the composition of the Consortium that may wish to take it (or parts of it) up.
The pathways analysed in REEEM are designed so as to unveil challenges across spatial, temporal and sectoral scales. A fully harmonised EU-wide assessment highlights overall social, economic and environmental challenges and the case studies complement the analysis by shedding light on non-obvious regional and local dynamics which may slow down the transition if ignored.
This setting allows the emergence of a number of key insights, described in Section 4.1. The concept of “winners” and “losers” is, to some extent, subjective as there will be a number of actors performing better in particular areas, while lagging behind in others. Broader engagement, as well as looking at non-EU drivers which may have an impact on the EU energy transition, appears to be quite critical, while weighing the incremental benefits over the marginal cost of decarbonisation beyond a certain point, may play a key role in the course EU decides to follow. The role of choices and behaviour of consumers in affecting the pace of the transition is looked into, through large surveys in three European countries. Despite the wide differences between the countries, it is interesting to notice how archetypal patterns seem consistent across very different groups of citizens. A comprehensive view on the impact of the transition on the use of resources is developed, filling a gap of previous actions. At one end it consolidates existing practices for the evaluation of water uses, emission changes due to land uses and health impacts, by increasing the number of categories looked at and the resolution of the analyses; at the other it extends the perspective to life cycle (and cross-borders) assessments of resources, use of critical materials and influence on ecosystem services. A sector that seems to be particularly pivotal, is that of vehicles. The latter has, on the one hand, a great potential to help reduce emissions, but it may be accompanied by a number of adverse effects worth looking at in future actions.
Comparing the three REEEM pathways investigated, two main conclusions can be drawn. Firstly, as expected, deeper decarbonisation in a globally enforced Paris Agreement pathway (where Europe is not a leader) leads to lower GDP growth (with a limited classical analysis). But at the same time brings higher health and environmental benefits. The “Local Solutions” pathway is slightly less cost-effective than the CL pathway - which may bring some relief given the urgency of the transition, knowing that government action may be easier to implement than self-organised citizenry. Yet, there are a number of other unexpected trends and related insights. For example, in the Local Solutions pathway, there is higher consumption of critical materials but also higher production of biomass). Secondly, some key trends seem to appear consistently in the transition to a low-carbon system, regardless of the pathway. For example, there is growth in renewable energy technology-related industry, drops in fossil-fuel related activities and increasing demand for critical materials. One way of interpreting this fact (i.e. consistent trends in all pathways) is to realise that if the macro-scale of the transition is expected to be almost equal regardless of the particular course chosen, it is important to focus on the micro-scale impacts and set priorities accordingly.
Key insights from the project analysis include:
The impacts of the transition to a low carbon EU energy system are multi-dimensional and spatially varied;
Broader engagement is imperative for deep decarbonisation;
The EU low-carbon transition is strongly linked to non-EU drivers;
There are non-trivial multidimensional path dependencies that cannot be ignored;
Among the technology trends, energy efficiency and electrification of transportation are consistently confirmed as potential enablers of the decarbonisation;
Focusing on direct mitigation misses important leakage effects;
New energy security paradigms.
The list of indicators synthesising the impact assessment is derived from an integrated comprehensive modelling framework. In fact this is the most extensive exercise of its kind to date in the EC. The indicators create an opportunity for deriving consolidated, non-silo conclusions and holistic policy-making which span across SDGs and inform the Clean Planet for all strategy. The list of indicators shown in the current report can be found in Appendix B. Interpreting indicators can be a subjective exercise, and for this reason, it is critical that different viewpoints are considered. In the course of REEEM, several workshops have been carried out which have helped discuss the analysis results and draw useful insights. The workshops featured participation either from local stakeholders (those related to the case studies) or international (i.e. EU level, those linked to the PanEU activities).
Further to the above, the REEEM project has contributed to a culture of openness, transparency, engagement and incremental research. It addressed the need for an approach combining co-designing, documenting, simplifying and sharing scientific outcomes. As described in Section 4.2-4.5, a number of open and accessible tools and platforms have been developed, namely, OSeMBE, REEEMgame, REEEMpathways and REEEM database. Those may provide researchers with a best-in-class base for further analysis. That analysis may include integrated systems and relevant impacts and provide policy-makers with an engagement platform for model-based assessments. The scientific reports produced under the scope of REEEM are publicly accessible and can be found here. Numerous journal publications featuring details of the analyses and results are already available and more will become available through a Special Issue of the Gold Open Access journal Energy Strategy Reviews (Elsevier), expected to be completed after the end of the project, in Spring 2020. Finally, the establishment of the Energy Modelling Platform for Europe opened a space for disseminating outcomes of the project’s assessments, create new science and compare models and insights with all other modelling groups in Europe. The EMP-E is now set out to be a long-lasting and inclusive effort calling together numerous funded actions and receiving inputs from the European Commission. The Special Issue of Energy Strategy Reviews related to EMP-E 2017 constitutes one of the largest Special Issues available to date (including 22 peer-reviewed publications, of which 10 with unlimited open access), represents the first comprehensive digest of modelling efforts across Europe and sets intentions and course for the Platform as intended by REEEM (in the Preface) and by the European Commission (in the introduction).
Improvements may be made in different aspects of the framework; particular ones have been identified and described below:
• The 5 case studies considered in REEEM shed light on critical issues which cannot be captured in an EU-level analysis. In future studies, it would be prudent to carry out similar studies in different part of the EU in order to get more bottom-up understanding of the system-wide impacts of the transition.
• In terms of input data and assumptions, delving deeper into national policies could make the results more country relevant. At the moment, not all the latest country-level dynamics are captured.
• Parts of the input data of some of the models are not yet fully complying with open data standards, because they became integral part of the models before standard open data management practices emerged or because they are copyrighted. These shall be replaced in the future with the increasingly available large and spatially resolved sets of open data. The process started within REEEM, where, for instance, sets of data included in the TIMES PanEU model were updated with open data included in the OSeMBE model.
• Further integration between the models (i.e. soft-linking) could be pursued, leading to even more robust results. More specifically, there is potential for establishing iterative linking between different models until they reach convergence (similar to that between TIMES PanEU and NEWAGE).
Furthermore, there is a certain level of uncertainty governing the integrated framework, as the models are used and maintained separately by different institutions. To some degree, this has been be minimised during the REEEM project by documenting data exchange processes, establishing data processing infrastructures (shared also on platforms which will live beyond the project, within the open modelling community), laying the ground for further bilateral modelling efforts, ensuring a space for discussions and scientific publications within the Energy Modelling Platform for Europe.