Renewable energy concept

Power sector will need negative carbon emissions for UK to meet net zero targets

Image credit: Vaclav Volrab/Dreamstime

To reach net zero by 2050, UK roads will need to be populated by 37.4m electric vehicles by that time and the country's power sector will need to have been a negative carbon producer since 2034, according to the National Grid Electricity System Operator (ESO).

In its 'Our Future Energy Scenarios' report, it also outlines how people will need to change their lifestyle habits and switch over to low-carbon forms of heating such as those powered by renewable energy and hydrogen.

The ESO drew on hundreds of experts’ views to model four credible energy pathways for Britain over coming decades. Its analysis suggests that the UK can achieve its legally binding carbon-reduction targets in three out of the four scenarios.

Two of the scenarios see Britain reduce its emissions by 78 per cent by 2035, requiring significant shifts in technology and society in the near future.

One such scenario sees people in 2050 turning down their thermostats by an average of 1°C, reducing heat demand by 13 per cent. It also predicts that over 80 per cent of households are smart charging their electric vehicle, responding to time-of-use energy tariffs to access cheaper, greener energy and reduce peak demand on the grid.

It adds that switching to LED light bulbs and smart appliances could have a significant impact, with potential improvements of over 30 per cent in consumers’ energy efficiency.

The ESO said that Britain is already making “strong progress on that journey” but will need to capitalise on the current momentum to reach net zero.

“Clear policy direction from Government on, for example, residential heating and support for energy efficiency measures will also be key to reducing overall demands,” it said.

With the decline of natural gas use, hydrogen plays a central role in all of the net zero scenarios.

This fuel will also need to be created through electrolysis, a process that uses surplus wind or solar energy to make hydrogen. Currently, only about 1 per cent of the world’s hydrogen is made in this way, with the rest being created using fossil fuels.

“Consumers will need a greater understanding of how their power use and lifestyle choices impact how sustainable our energy system will be,” said Matthew Wright, head of strategy and regulation at ESO.

“Government policy will be key to driving awareness and change.”

In 2017, Ofgem gave the National Grid two years to spin off its functions as an electricity system operator into a separate company, resulting in the creation of the ESO.

Since its creation, it has been preparing the grid for the increasing amount of renewable energy facilities that are coming online.

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