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Mass EV deployment and BECCS key for UK net-zero goal – National Grid report

With a UK target of net-zero by 2050, fundamental changes for energy consumers, particularly in transport, heating, and energy efficiency will be required. A report from power and gas distributor National Grid UK, part of the National Grid Group, outlines four pathways for energy over the next 30 years.“This year’s FES report paints an exciting picture of net-zero Britain with electricity playing a crucial role in meeting meet the 2050 emissions targets," said Mark Herring, Head of Strategy.

Carbon emissions from the UK power sector continue to fall in all scenarios, with “Leading the Way” becoming net negative by 2030; other net-zero scenarios achieve this by the mid-2030s. “Steady Progression” does not reach net negative emissions due to the continued presence of fossil fuels in the generation mix and the absence of CCUS (graphic courtesy National Grid).

The 2020 edition of the annual Future Energy Scenarios (FES) report looks at the energy needed in the UK, across electricity and gas – examining where it could come from, how it needs to change, and what this means for consumers, society and the energy system itself.

Three of the four FES scenarios modelled show that the UK reaches net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 or earlier but make clear this requires immediate action across all key technologies and policy areas, with fundamental changes for energy consumers, particularly in transport, heating, and energy efficiency.

This year’s Future Energy Scenarios paint an exciting picture of net-zero Britain with electricity playing a crucial role in meeting meet the 2050 emissions targets. Although these are not firm predictions, we’ve talked to over 600 industry experts to build this insight and it’s clear while net-zero is achievable, there are significant changes ahead, said Mark Herring, Head of Strategy, National Grid UK.

Mass EV deployment

The report estimates there will be over 11 million electric vehicles (EVs) on UK roads by 2030, and over 30 million by 2040 in the most stretching net-zero scenarios. By 2050 up to 80 percent of households with an EV will be ‘smart charging’ their car, plugging in outside of the evening peak when energy is cheaper and demand on the grid is lower.

45 percent of homes will actively help to balance the grid, offering up to 38 GW of flexible electricity to help manage peaks and fill troughs in demand.

Energy efficiency of housing also features strongly with fundamental changes in how houses are heated in all the net-zero scenarios. 2050 could see homes no longer using natural gas boilers and 20 million heat pumps instead, with as many 8 million homes actively managing their heating demands by storing heat and shifting their use outside of peak periods.

Across all scenarios, we see a growth in renewable energy generation, including significant expansion in installed offshore wind capacity. There is a widespread uptake in domestic electric vehicles, and growth and investment in hydrogen and carbon capture technologies too. Our new analysis of the level of societal change needed to achieve net-zero also shows that consumers need a greater understanding of how their energy use impacts the wider system, and how changes to their lifestyle have an impact on net-zero ambitions, said Mark Herring.

BECCS needed

The analysis shows significant changes for the energy system too with emissions from the sector negative by 2030. This is generated by 40 GW of offshore capacity and using Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS), and the scaling up non-traditional sources of flexibility such as demand-side response and storage.

The report notes that bioenergy has a particularly valuable role in certain energy sectors which are difficult to decarbonise and has an important potential role in decarbonising the energy system and wider economy when combined with carbon capture, usage, and storage (CCUS) to deliver negative emissions.

The low case assumes limited UK policy support and poor global governance, leaving available biomass supply largely the same as today. The medium case assumes UK policy support enables domestic production to increase. Strategically managed land use and waste products lead to around 220 TWh of bioresource, the majority domestically produced. In the high case scenario, there is a favourable global context for sustainable biomass production. The UK becomes an early mover in the developing global import market, resulting in access to around 275 TWh by 2050 (graphic courtesy National Grid).

COVID-19 not a factor in 2020 FES

The full extent of coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic became apparent too late to be factored into the analysis and will be examined fully in FES 2021.

While COVID19 came too late to be factored in to this year’s analysis many of the areas highlighted will be crucial in a green recovery from the pandemic, particularly improving energy efficiency across all sectors and significant investment in low carbon electricity generation. There is already significant progress being made towards net-zero, including ESO planning to operate a zero-carbon electricity system by 2025, but the fundamental changes outlined make it more important than ever to have a coordinated approach to decarbonizing the whole energy sector, ended Mark Herring.

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