National Grid released its annual Future Energy Scenarios (“FES”) report last week, outlining four credible, potential pathways for the future of energy over the next 30 years.  There is a renewed focus on how we can achieve net zero emissions by 2050, with three of the scenarios showing that net zero can be met (two by 2050, and one by 2048, which National Grid describes as ‘as soon as credibly possible’).

What are the key messages we can take from the FES?

  1. In order to meet that 2050 target, action must be taken now across all key technologies and policy areas.  Government stimulus packages for clean energy and energy efficiency measures must be brought forward quickly.  In addition hydrogen and carbon capture and storage must be deployed and industrial scale demonstration projects need to be operational this decade.
  2. There will be a heavy reliance on low-carbon electricity, with a need for at least 40 GW of new capacity to be connected to the electricity system in the next 10 years, and at least 3 GW of wind and 1.4 GW of solar needing to be built every year from now until 2050.  In fact, in the three net zero scenarios, there is a need for the power sector to deliver negative emissions to offset residual emissions in other sectors by 2033.  Even though renewable energy generation is leading the way in carbon emissions reductions already, these are challenging targets.
  3. Heat is an urgent area of priority, with policy decisions needed now in order to drive the change needed across the whole energy system.  For the residential sector, there must be a switch from natural gas boilers, prompted by government policy (the FES suggests this must start by 2035 at the latest), with hydrogen boilers, heat pumps or district heating increasing to meet that demand. 
  4. As the sector with the largest carbon emissions, transport will need fundamental changes before 2050. Currently, transport accounts for approximately a third of all UK emissions and consumes 640 TWh per annum.  There has been a real surge in interest in electric vehicles, but the change needed will be broader than this, encompassing all forms of transport including HGVs, rail and shipping.  As we’ve previously reported, the transport sector is looking at various initiatives to hasten that change (see here and here).
  5. The energy system must evolve to meet the needs of a net zero society.  This will involve increasing scale, complexity and interdependency of energy conversions from one fuel to another, and there must be “whole system” thinking.  Additionally, there should be more embedded generation and more flexibility (including demand side response and storage but with a high reliance on hydrogen storage (with at least 15 TWh of hydrogen storage needed by 2050)).  Open data access will be fundamental to ensure efficiency.
  6. The energy system alone cannot deliver decarbonisation; societal behavioural change is an integral part of any pathway to net zero.  The need for energy efficiency across all sectors is paramount.

The FES highlights just how significantly the energy landscape will change in the coming decades.   Technology can be deployed to achieve net zero by 2050, but policy change to encourage significant investment must come now if the challenging targets set out in the FES are to be met.