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System Costs of Variable Renewable Energy in the European Union


  • Thibault Roy

    (European Commission)


To shift to a low-carbon economy, the EU has been encouraging the deployment of variable renewable energy sources (VRE). However, VRE lack of competitiveness and their technical specificities have substantially raised the cost of the transition. Economic evaluations show that VRE life-cycle costs of electricity generation are still today higher than those of conventional thermal power plants. Member States have consequently adopted dedicated policies to support them. In addition, Ueckerdt et al. (2013) show that when integrated to the power system, VRE induce supplementary not-accounted-for costs. This paper first exposes the rationale of EU renewables goals, the EU targets and current deployment. It then explains why the LCOE metric is not appropriate to compute VRE costs by describing integration costs, their magnitude and their implications. Finally, it analyses the consequences for the power system and policy options. The paper shows that the EU has greatly underestimated VRE direct and indirect costs and that policymakers have failed to take into account the burden caused by renewable energy and the return of State support policies. Indeed, induced market distortions have been shattering the whole power system and have undermined competition in the Internal Energy Market. EU policymakers can nonetheless take full account of this negative trend and reverse it by relying on competition rules, setting-up a framework to collect robust EU-wide data, redesigning the architecture of the electricity system and relying on EU regulators.

Suggested Citation

  • Thibault Roy, 2015. "System Costs of Variable Renewable Energy in the European Union," Bruges European Economic Policy Briefings 37, European Economic Studies Department, College of Europe.
  • Handle: RePEc:coe:wpbeep:37

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Hirth, Lion & Ueckerdt, Falko & Edenhofer, Ottmar, 2015. "Integration costs revisited – An economic framework for wind and solar variability," Renewable Energy, Elsevier, vol. 74(C), pages 925-939.
    2. Hirth, Lion, 2013. "The market value of variable renewables," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 38(C), pages 218-236.
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    Cited by:

    1. Hu, Jing & Harmsen, Robert & Crijns-Graus, Wina & Worrell, Ernst & van den Broek, Machteld, 2018. "Identifying barriers to large-scale integration of variable renewable electricity into the electricity market: A literature review of market design," Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Elsevier, vol. 81(P2), pages 2181-2195.

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    More about this item


    Variable renewable energy; Integration costs; Distortion costs; EU electricity system; System costs;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • L51 - Industrial Organization - - Regulation and Industrial Policy - - - Economics of Regulation
    • L94 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Transportation and Utilities - - - Electric Utilities
    • O52 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economywide Country Studies - - - Europe
    • Q20 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Renewable Resources and Conservation - - - General
    • Q42 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Energy - - - Alternative Energy Sources

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