National Grid ESO sets out four decarbonisation pathways

National Grid ESO's Future Energy Scenarios range from a less ambitious plan to a much more ambitious approach to reach net zero

National Grid ESO has set out four pathways for the future of energy between now and 2050 in the Future Energy Scenarios (FES) 2022.

The four 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 is the most ambitious pathway reaching Net Zero before 2050. It 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.

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

The Electricity System Operator’s FES study 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, among 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.

Published annually since 2011, the 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.

Pandemic and war testing supply chains and energy security

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 £5bn, 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.

Sanjay Neogi, Head of UK and Europe at Enzen said it is only right that digitalistation, market reform and whole system thinking are at the heart of today’s Future Energy Scenarios report from National Grid ESO - adding it’s now more evident than ever that consumers are actively engaged in the journey to net zero, with 41% admitting they’re ‘very concerned’ about climate change.

"What will be crucial to meeting net zero goals is a collaborative approach from the entire utilities sector, incorporating longer term planning, strategic vision and creativity within the industry, with a focus on applying best practice data, innovation and cybersecurity measures that develop the sustainable grids of the future," he said.

"The energy sector should be ambitious, and we’re already seeing the groundwork being laid, but today’s FES report highlights the urgent need for proactive investment to ensure the energy system can act as an enabler to net zero.

"The focus should now be on supercharging new solutions that are efficient, sustainable and equipped to deliver net zero, as well as being highly customer-focused."

Jo-Jo Hubbard, Co-founder & CEO, Electron, said in this year’s Future Energy Scenarios, we finally see demand side flexibility step into the limelight.

"With more than 100GW of capacity planned by 2050 – in one of the scenarios – this is roughly twice today’s winter peak demand," she said.

"It is the strongest, and yet still largely underutilised, tool in our zero-carbon-grid kit. It's also wielded by consumers who want to play their part in Net Zero. Now is the time to set up real incentives to encourage that flexibility to use power at the right time and the right place. Our role at Electron is to establish bottom up, local energy markets to avoid renewable curtailment and network congestion.” 

To read more of her thoughts on net zero, read our '5 Mins With...' column here.


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