Roadmap 2050: A Practical Guide to a Prosperous, Low-Carbon Europe
Reinier de Graaf
AMO's conceptualization and visualization of Roadmap 2050: A Practical Guide to a Prosperous, Low-Carbon Europe.
Brussels, , 13 April 2010

One may wonder why an architect is at an event that is about emission reductions and a potential energy grid. Because so far I have to say that the performance of our profession in the field of sustainability hasn't been that impressive. It’s generally limited to a number of token green walls at biennale exhibitions or some showcase vanity occasions.

This wasn't always the case. Forty years ago, at the end of the 1960s, there was an American postwar modern architect called Buckminster Fuller who actually did projects linking the idea of sustainability to energy provision, and he addressed them at the appropriate scale, namely the scale of the planet. Since that time we have seen a strange incongruous trend where the awareness of the issue of sustainability has actually become, at least in our profession, inversely proportional to the scale of the action, which is painful. What is even more painful is that this trend is not limited to our profession.
Virtually every field of today's market economy shows the same picture: green is good. But it is as though somehow, somewhere, an invisible hand keeps the scale of ambition firmly in check. I think this was nowhere more clear than at Copenhagen, where there was an unprecedented number of people, an unprecedented exposure, and nevertheless very little to show for it. The unfortunate consequence is that those who tried hardest end up being dammed the most…

Meanwhile the world continues to emit, or maybe I should say pollute – it's a more straightforward and accessible term, because that is what it really is. As the world continues to develop, and as the economy particularly of China continues to grow, if everyone behaves like the arch polluters, namely the Americans, then this is what the future emissions would look like – clearly a very daunting prospect for the earth because as CO2 emissions keep on growing, so the temperature of the earth will increase, with potentially disastrous consequences.

I know there are those who are skeptical about this. Particularly after the failure of Copenhagen, scientists were criticized for inaccuracies in their reports to such an extent that the latest Rasmussen poll indicates that 59% of people find it somewhat likely and 35% find it very likely that climatologists fudge their reports. The irony is, however, that those who criticize others for inaccuracies use implausible numbers themselves.

But maybe the numbers are not the point. Maybe it is precisely the uncertainty of the numbers that is the point, and maybe it is precisely the uncertainty of the numbers that should compel us to action.

These are climate incidents, but they are becoming so frequent that one can really wonder if they are merely isolated incidents. In a way, climate change is here – and certainly the cost associated with climate change is here, and is spiraling out of control. I think the only uncertainty of the numbers is that nobody knows precisely where this will end up if no action is taken.

But beyond climate there are other benefits and there are other things are worth looking at in the context of this particular project. A Europe that will rely on fossil fuel automatically means a Europe that relies on the world outside. One can wonder whether that is a smart or even sustainable idea. A Europe that doesn't transform would find its products, which it trades with other parts of the world, outmoded. And when it doesn't modernize, when it doesn’t innovate, it will have nothing to offer. This kind of trade balance would become a trade unbalance.

I think the current moment in terms of the climate debate and renewable energy contains a very weird irony. In 1961, John F. Kennedy addressed the joint session of congress announcing the ambition of putting a man on the moon before the turn of the decade. When he said this, it is now proven, that he had no clue how to do it. The technology to do that was not in place. But his declaration was merely a question of creating a political climate in which the likelihood of such a thing happening would be so great that he could announce it with confidence. Somehow in this debate we seem to have the opposite situation.

Much of our research shows that the technology is in place, and that it can be done, but somehow there is another thing on another level that keeps it from happening. The arguments have such a degree of consensus that one sometimes wonders why it has not already happened.

Last year, Gorbachev declared: "Tear down this wall and save the planet." He was encouraging people to go beyond national interest, go beyond vested economic interest, come together and simply address a problem that transcends the size of the nation on a scale that transcends the size of the nation. Fortunately the European Union, at more or less the same time, actually embraced the idea of a Europe-wide approach to reduce emissions 80 percent in 2050. What is clear is that all sectors have to contribute, but without the participation of transport and the power sector, such a thing will not happen.

Who could be opposed? It's not just about wind turbines though. They are a frequently used image. The nice thing about renewable energy is that it is a very diverse sort of energy: there are about seven sorts in our study alone. One could say that Europe’s diversity is actually mirrored in the diversity of renewable energy. So far of course, Europe is Europe, which means that Europe is a collection of individual states which happily mistrust each other and proceed to pursue everything all at once. Could we, instead of showing this Europe, show a preferential Europe: Dr Strangelove going green?

But this diversity is clear element of the planning of renewable energy that could be interesting. In summer, the windy north can profit from sunny south, and in the winter the sunny south could profit from the windy north. You have the idea of complementarily, and this is not only strictly limited to wind. Beyond a diversity of countries, and beyond a geographic diversity, Europe also has enormous climatic diversity, which makes it a perfect territory to capitalize on all these renewable energy sources in a situation of mutual benefit. Almost like a band of brothers who join together, each contributing a different skill, in this case each contributing a different form of renewable energy, all for the greater good of the whole.

This a kind of Europe we have labeled Eneropa: just for the sake of speculation we imagine a future Europe in which regions do not derive their identity from their culture, but from their main source of renewable energy. So we have Solaria in the south, Biomassburg in the location of the former Habsburg empire, and Geothermalia as a kind of greater Germany – all of course in a pleasant state of interconnectedness, each benefiting from the efforts of the others.

Some of this may sound outrageous and crazy, but the elements are reflected in the conclusions of the technical analysis. This outlines nine regions, each with a different mix of renewable energy, but each with a deliberate and distinct emphasis on a certain kind of renewable energy which takes the largest share. An enhanced transmission grid will actually allow different parts of Europe to benefit from other parts’ effort. This network could turn into a 21st century symbol of the 1950s EU symbol in terms of hope; it could play on every level of European propaganda. But how does it work from here?

This is the current European energy grid linked to the sources of power, and mainly to fossil fuel sources. A new grid would prioritize certain parts of that infrastructure and upgrades them to a primary network. A secondary network would connect that network to the array of new primary power sources, most of which are renewable.

The nice thing about it is that the whole movement towards renewable energy could almost embody an invisible revolution, where everything changes and nothing changes at the same time. As the performance of renewable energy sources continuous to rise and the price continues to drop, they will have an ever larger share in Europe's energy provision and even allow a situation where Europe’s energy demand can still grow – as it will until 2050.

Part of our proposal was that some of the infrastructure that will no longer have an intensive use would be subject to a future industrial heritage policy and could even be extended to coal plants currently being planned but not yet built. So this is the first forward looking heritage policy, which we have introduced in the context of this project.

Also in this report is a 100 percent renewable scenario, which is very nice because it's the one element that is not completely Eurocentric in the sense that North Africa would be needed and technological breakthroughs would be needed. To start with north Africa: a huge theoretical reservoir of solar energy, requiring a relatively modest expansion of the grid – for which there are many projects already being studied in countries like Algeria, Libya, Morocco and Egypt. Such a network would bring about an extended cycle of benefits where Africa gets money and jobs, but also interestingly in north Africa the solar cells could help desalinate the water, which also could bring back a certain type of agriculture. Last but not least it could be an energy provision for north Africa itself, ultimately on equal terms. This could bring a new kind of nearness between the north and the south, an interesting rapprochement between Europe and Africa as a byproduct of energy potential.

The other element in the 100 percent scenario is the need for technological breakthroughs. In a way the current study is a relatively conservative, worst case scenario because it addresses only the existing technology, and yet various breakthroughs might happen. Enhanced geothermal is being portrayed as the most likely one, depending on advances in deep-hole drilling and the ability to assess seismic risks. But there is much to suggest that there is a very wide array of breakthroughs approaching: tidal energy, solar cell spray-paint, biofuels, and ultimately body power as very inspiring source of energy.

How will 2050 look? Maybe the most revolutionary insight of this study is that 2050 may look like today. The most shocking part of these findings is how incredibly unshocking it is. Everything that moves is the same and it still moves. Only the things that make the things move have all completely changed. It's a situation where everything changes and at the same time nothing changes, which for an architect is a very weird insight.

The last thing I would like to show is a little film to a forward ticking clock portraying how all of this might happen.

Thank you.

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