According to a new report published by the National Grid Carbon emissions from Britain’s electricity system could turn negative by as early as 2033 if the UK uses carbon capture technology alongside a significant increase in the use of renewable energy to reach its climate targets. The Guardian reports that this is the National Grid’s most progressive vision to date for Britain’s pathway towards its 2050 climate goals.
The energy operator predicts that major renewable projects coupled with electric vehicle uptake and government action to reduce the burden of home heating will ensure the UK hits its net zero targets.
Included in the electricity network operator’s vision for an emissions negative grid are 30m electric vehicles on UK roads, and 8m heat pumps used to replace gas boilers in energy-efficient homes.
The National Grid is expecting a boom in renewable energy projects, including at least 3GW (gigawatts) of new wind power capacity and 1.4GW of solar generation every year from now until 2050. This surge in new clean energy projects will significantly reduce fossil fuel emissions. The widespread rollout of electric vehicles which can be charged at home during ‘off peak’ periods will effectively act as smart charging ‘batteries’ to help balance the electricity grid. Alongside this, the National Grid is confident that there will be a revolution in consumer energy use which will include greatly improved energy efficiency and the end of gas boilers. Millions of homes will consume less than a third of the energy used today and will instead rely on heat pumps fitted with thermal “heat batteries”.
The head of strategy at National Grid ESO, Mark Herring said:
“Our new analysis of the level of societal change needed to achieve net zero also shows that consumers need greater understanding of how their energy use impacts the wider system, and how changes to their lifestyle have an impact on net zero ambitions.”
The energy operator believes that if “immediate action” is taken to promote the use of cleaner, more efficient power that it will ensure that the UK hits its 2050 net zero targets and could even see electricity production emissions turn negative in just 13 years’ time if carbon capture and storage technologies are implemented.
Carbon capture could play an important role in removing greenhouse gases from North Sea gas to produce clean-burning hydrogen for Britain’s factories, steel works and power plants. The National Grid foresees the potential for the amount of gas being burned to produce electricity without carbon capture technology halving by 2035.
Electricity from bioenergy could save 62m tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2050, the equivalent to about 13% of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions in 2019, if carbon capture is used to trap the bioenergy power plant emissions
Though bioenergy is seen by many to be carbon neutral because the emissions produced from burning wood pellets in a power plant is offset by the carbon dioxide absorbed by sustainably managed forests, carbon accounting is disputed by some academics and environmentalists.
Mark Herring said that examination of ‘future energy scenarios’ revealed that three of the four most credible avenues to a net zero economy by 2050 involved relying on low-carbon electricity. He added that reductions in emissions from areas including transport were essential.
Mark Herring said:
“Across all scenarios, we see growth in renewable energy generation, including significant expansion in installed offshore wind capacity. There is widespread uptake in domestic electric vehicles, and growth and investment in hydrogen and carbon capture technologies too. 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.”
The National Grid warns that the UK will fail to hit its legally binding ambition to reduce carbon emissions to net-zero by 2050 if it relies on a steady transformation of its industrial and consumer economy. The energy operator would like to see ‘immediate action’ from the government on key policies. Their vision depends on significant levels of government action.
Many people are hopeful that the Coronavirus pandemic may hasten the UK’s climate ambitions by using government stimulus packages for clean energy and energy efficiency measures as a catalyst for a green economic recovery. The government has taken the first steps towards this by introducing the Green Homes grant which is being launched in September. Homeowners will be able to claim up to £5,000 or in some cases £10,000 to improve energy efficiency in their homes.
Mark Herring said:
“While Covid-19 came too late to be factored into 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.”
The Grid’s report states that “urgent policy decisions” are needed to ensure the decarbonisation from heating systems and “drive change across the whole energy system”. It also says that new “cross-sector regulations and services are needed to simplify the changes consumers need to make”.
However, this alone is not enough to drive the change required. At least 3GW of wind and 1.4GW of solar power must be built every year from now until 2050.
Mark Herring added:
“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 decarbonising the whole energy sector.”