Thermal generation remains necessary to complement variable renewable power generation and ensure continued security of supply. While demand response and storage are expected to play a growing role in balancing electricity demand and supply, firm capacity such as thermal generation and nuclear power will continue to be needed in the coming decades. Thermal generation is also needed to maintain system stability, a key element of security of power supply.
Nuclear power plays today a critical element in limiting greenhouse gas emissions, ensuring security of supply and competitive power prices in Europe.
At the same time, thermal generation will need to adapt to the demands of the changing system. The volatility of the demand that has to be met by capacity other than solar or wind power will increase, and thermal generation will need new capabilities to react to this development, including faster startups and shutdowns, lower minimum generation, higher ramping rates, and more frequent changes in generation.
There are a variety of opportunities for thermal generation to make the most of its potential as a key pillar of the future energy system. Technological advancements have resulted in more efficient thermal units, which can substantially reduce emissions of CO2 and atmospheric pollutants, as does the development of combined heat and power (CHP) in areas with sufficient demand for industrial steam or district heating and cooling.
Biomass - or biogas -fired thermal plants can bring more renewable electricity to power systems. Moreover, carbon capture and storage (CCS) could allow thermal generation to become increasingly CO2-free. CCS is a proven technology, but the full CCS chain from capture to storage still needs to be demonstrated in Europe on an industrial scale. Unfortunately, progress in Europe in this area has been much slower than anticipated.