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Navigating to a Net Zero British energy system for all

  • National Grid ESO explored four different, credible pathways for the future of energy between now and 2050 in the Future Energy Scenarios 2022

  • The scenarios range from a less ambitious plan to decarbonising the energy system, to a much more ambitious approach.

  • Researchers found that strategically investing in infrastructure to onboard clean energy, making the system smarter and more flexible and reforming the wholesale electricity market would unlock benefits.

  • It could also reduce dependence on foreign energy to insulate economy from geopolitical shocks, such as Ukraine, and enable Government’s Net Zero 2050 target to be reached three years early.

​​​​​Britain could provide greater energy security to businesses and families, expand its ability to deliver home-grown renewable energy and insulate its economy from future shocks if it speeds up the transition to a decarbonised energy system, new ESO research shows.

The Electricity System Operator’s Future Energy Scenarios (FES) study outlines four different pathways for the future of energy between now and 2050. The report explores how different parts of the energy system can help lower emissions across the economy – whether through smart and digital technologies, electrification, deploying new hydrogen opportunities, or incorporating carbon capture usage and storage into industrial clusters, amongst others. Each scenario considers how much energy we might need and where it could come from to try to a build a picture of the different solutions that may be required.

The four ‘Future Energy Scenarios’ (FES) stretch across various degrees of decarbonisation:

  • System Transformation and Consumer Transformation both reach Net Zero by 2050, albeit in different ways. System Transformation focuses on the utilisation of more hydrogen, including for heating, alongside supply side flexibility. Consumer Transformation focuses on electrified heating and a quicker transition to energy efficient homes, supported by demand side flexibility. There are also different levels of societal change, with ‘Consumer Transformation’ assuming higher levels of such change, although it is required to some extent in both scenarios. 

  • Leading the Way, the most ambitious pathway reaching Net Zero before 2050, includes ramping up investment in renewable technologies, building more storage for excess electricity and creating a smarter and more flexible energy system. This includes electrification and hydrogen to decarbonise demand, and sees hydrogen produced mainly from electrolysis. This scenario also assumes a direct air carbon capture and storage (DACCS) contribution, as well as the highest levels of societal lifestyle change.

  • Falling Short has the slowest credible level of decarbonisation. The energy sector doesn’t meet Net Zero by 2050, but almost meets the previous UK target of an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels.

Published annually since 2011, the detailed document is designed to help Government and the industry take decisions to decarbonise the electricity system by 2035, as well as contribute to the Net Zero target. It considers a number of factors, including changes in energy demand, consumer behaviour, the electricity market, the country’s overall energy mix and the flexibility of the system to adapt to fluctuations in supply and demand.

Since last year’s Future Energy Scenarios, the world has continued to change at pace. The impact from the pandemic is still being felt, while the devastating war in Ukraine is testing supply chains and access to fossil fuels for homes and industry. The analysis shows that significantly accelerating the transition to a decarbonised energy system can help to address security and affordability concerns at the same time as delivering Net Zero milestones.

The invasion of Ukraine was cited by the Government as one of the reasons to introduce the Energy Security Bill, which is designed to diversify Britain’s energy supply to end dependence on foreign energy by transitioning to a cleaner, affordable, home grown energy system.  Measures outlined by the more ambitious pathways in the FES report would help the Energy Security Bill meet its objectives.

The Bill also includes the establishment of an independent Future Systems Operator, which will take a whole system approach, working across gas, electricity and emerging markets like hydrogen and carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS).  The ESO will fill this role as the system’s ‘guiding mind’ and has already published a series of insights this summer including the Pathway to 2030: incorporating the Holistic Network Design report, an overview of the infrastructure needed to connect future renewable energy sources which could save consumers £5 billion, and Net Zero Market Reform report which makes the case for market reform, moving to a locational pricing system to deliver Net Zero at significantly lower cost to industry and consumers.

Read the full report and the executive summary ‘FES in 5’ here.