Replacing Europe's existing energy infrastructure with low-carbon alternatives should not raise electricity prices in the long term, a report co-authored by the consultancy McKinsey says.

The Roadmap 2050 report examined ways of meeting the European Union's targets of “decarbonising” the electricity supply by 2050 to cut greenhouse gas emissions by more than 80 per cent compared with 1990 levels. Scientists say such cuts are needed to avoid dangerous levels of climate change.

But although investing in renewables, such as wind and solar power, will carry a large upfront capital cost, the report found that the impact of this on electricity prices in the long term would be little different to “business as usual”.

This is partly because the operating costs of renewables are far lower than for fossil-fuel power stations, but also because Europe's existing high-carbon electricity infrastructure, such as coal and gas-fired and nuclear power stations, will need to be replaced in coming decades.

The report, which was published by the European Climate Foundation, a think-tank, canvassed the views of a variety of energy companies within the EU.

The authors found that using high levels of renewable energy did not lead to problems with the supply of electricity. Some experts say that because renewable forms of energy such as the wind and sun are inherently intermittent, large numbers of conventional power stations need to be kept on stand-by in case of a shortage.

But the report found this fear was exaggerated and that high levels of renewables could be tolerated provided they are geographically dispersed and there is a “supergrid” connecting them. For instance, large numbers of wind turbines could be placed in the North Sea and solar farms could be built in Spain, with the power distributed across borders by large interconnectors.