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Electrification as a driver for decarbonization and energy transition

Powering our homes, cities and businesses with electricity generated by renewables is a key strategy in the global effort to cut emissions

What is decarbonization and what does it mean?

Decarbonization is the key driver of the energy transition, itself crucial to fighting climate change. It is the process of cutting or eliminating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by phasing out the use of fossil fuels and switching to renewable sources of energy such as sunlight, wind, and geothermal heat. It is a process that involves human activities in both residential and industrial spheres of life.

Why is decarbonization important and how does it work?

Simply put, decarbonization is the process by which fossil fuels are replaced with renewable energy sources wherever possible. It is important because it enables reducing the amount of global warming greenhouse gases generated by humans. Unless humanity takes measures to drastically reduce the greenhouse gas emissions produced from its activities, climate change will be not only irreversible; it will become increasingly severe, characterized by more and more frequent extreme weather events.

There are several strategies for reaching the goal of zero emissions through decarbonization.



The process driving the energy transition for a sustainable world

The first step is electrification - of residential and business activities, as well as mobility. According to an August 2022 article by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, in 2020 the economic sectors labeled “residential & commercial”, “industry” and “transportation” accounted for 64% of US greenhouse gas emissions; 25% were the result of electric power generation, while agriculture was responsible for 11 per cent. Successfully electrifying these sectors is, therefore, a fundamental step.

Another step is investing in clean energy production. While electrification is the end goal, it is important that it be reached through use of sustainable energy sources: electrifying the economy by burning more coal or natural gas will not solve the GHG problem; it will only shift it away from end-users to producers. Therefore, it is crucial that electrification be based upon the use of renewable sources like solar, wind, hydro and geothermal.

What is energy transition: process and strategy

By energy transition we mean the global energy sector’s shift from fossil-based systems of energy production and consumption to renewables. It’s about replacing sources like oil, natural gas and coal with solar, wind, geothermal and clean hydrogen. The energy transition is important because, according to the United Nations, it is a pathway to keep global warming to no more than 1.5°C – as called for in the Paris Agreement – a goal that can only be achieved by reducing emissions by 45% by 2030 and to net zero by 2050. At the heart of the energy transition is the need to reduce energy-related CO2 emissions to limit climate change and mitigate destabilizing impacts such as extreme weather, floods, fires, and higher temperatures that could make some parts of the globe uninhabitable.
Curbing air pollution is equally important to human health. (A recent study in The Lancet - cited by The Washington Post - reveals that nearly 99% of the earth’s population is exposed to unhealthy levels of air pollutants.) Scientists are urging policymakers, communities and businesses everywhere to adopt an energy transition strategy if humanity is to successfully contain global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. These strategies involve a process of gradually replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy.

How can electrification reduce emissions?

Electrification and decarbonization are key energy transition strategies that are fundamental to efforts to slow climate change. Electrification - the replacing of fossil fuels with zero emissions electricity - speeds up the decarbonization process, thereby curbing the impacts of climate change. This is especially true when the electricity is generated by renewable sources, like sun and wind. Electrifying energy is a way to remove greenhouse gas emissions from energy consumption in many sectors.

More precisely, electrification involves increasing the percentage of electricity in terms of total final energy consumption mix. Today electricity makes up around 19% of total final energy consumption, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), and this figure has the potential to grow massively. To reach decarbonization targets and fight climate change, the share of renewable-generated electricity needs to grow substantially. At least 60% of the EU’s economy should be electrified by 2050 to achieve 95% greenhouse gas emission reduction versus 1990 levels, according to the study “Decarbonization Pathways” by Euroelectric.

Electrification of final energy consumption involves three fundamental elements that are important in fighting climate change: decarbonization, energy efficiency, and digitalization:

  • Decarbonization: with electricity, the fossil fuels used to power services can be replaced with electricity generated by renewable sources, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and, as a consequence, atmospheric pollution.
  • Efficiency: electrification, when combined with digital technology, is a process that enables the smart and efficient use of energy, ensuring significant savings for the sectors (transport, residential, urban, and industrial) where needs are mostly met by fossil fuels.
  • Digitalization: electricity enables the digitalization of energy uses through the integration of smart technologies and supports the development of innovative products, services, and business models. Digitalization coupled with the electric energy supply can optimize energy consumption and reduce waste.
Our Commitment

Our Commitment

We are leading the change, accelerating the energy transition

Electrification and renewable energy: how they can contribute to decarbonization and energy transition

The main benefits of using renewable energy for electrification are:

  • Cutting emissions, reducing global warming and getting rid of pollution, which in turn improves health, the environment, and quality of life for all: electrification using clean energy from renewables means a better chance at a sustainable future
  • Making our power generation, distribution and storage systems more flexible, resilient, efficient, profitable and secure. A significant economic benefit comes from diversifying the energy supply and reducing dependence on imported fuels, while creating economic development and jobs in the renewable energy sector

Electrification powered by renewables is therefore an unprecedented opportunity to foster a clean energy transition: it is an accessible path to an affordable, reliable and decarbonized energy system.