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National Grid’s Future Energy Scenarios 2017: what you need to know

There’s currently a great deal of uncertainty around the future of energy in the UK, with political changes and an increasingly diverse energy mix making it difficult to predict what our energy landscape will look like next year, let alone in ten years’ time. So we were keen to read the findings of National Grid’s 2017 Future Energy Scenarios, a document which gives us a number of potential scenarios for the future of energy out to 2050.

Each scenario is based on the energy trilemma of security of supply, sustainability and affordability, and National Grid aim to predict the possible demand for gas and electricity and the implications of this demand in all scenarios. This year the scenarios include:

  • Consumer Power – a wealthy, market-driven world
  • Two Degrees – in which environmental sustainability comes above all else
  • Steady State – where security of supply and short-term thinking are dominant factors
  • Slow Progression – a world with a long-term environmental strategy

Here are the key takeaways…

New technologies are dramatically changing the energy landscape

The UK’s energy system is set to change rapidly over the FES period, and new technologies will accelerate this transformation. As our energy generation sources become increasingly distributed and diverse, and the number of participants in the market grows, tech solutions will also give the grid the flexibility it will need.

National Grid predict that technological advances will open up new opportunities for the industry, as it will drive the growth of storage, residential and commercial energy generation and smart devices. With electricity demand set to rise significantly, smart applications could make it easier for us to adjust or shift demand during peak times. Technology could also boost renewables – technological progress could cause the costs of renewable generation like solar and offshore wind to fall and in turn improve the economic case for green methods of generation.

When it comes to National Grid’s scenarios, technologies are more prevalent in the worlds with flourishing economies – Two Degrees and Consumer Power.

We’ll be driving electric vehicles

There’s a significant rise in electric vehicles (EVs) in all scenarios but Steady State, with potentially 9 million electric cars and vans on the roads in 2030, compared to around 90,000 today. In Two Degrees, the emphasis on sustainability means consumers are making conscious choices and so 50% of EVs are shared autonomous vehicles. In the Consumer Power world EVs are also popular, but consumers choose EVs because they’re seen as desirable, high tech and they’re the most economic option. This means that there are two million less EVs in Consumer Power than in Two Degrees by 2050 – but EVs represent more than 90% of all cars by 2050 in both scenarios

Demand for electricity could increase dramatically

While the predicted rise in EVs is positive from a sustainability perspective, it could cause peak demand to rise by as much as 8GW by 2030, putting a significant strain on the grid. If the charging of EVs is managed, with charging being shifted to times when demand is lower, the extra peak demand could be limited to 3.5GW – but that will still create new challenges when it comes to managing the system. Changing consumer behaviour will make a big difference on the impact of EVs on the grid –we see the biggest rise in peak demand in Consumer Power because consumers are unengaged and use electricity whenever it suits them.

It’s not just EVs that will fuel a greater demand for electricity. If we’re to meet the 2050 carbon reduction target, we need to make decarbonisation of heat a priority now, and this will lead to the electrification of heating. Moving heating away from natural gas remains a challenge in the future; in the less green scenarios (Steady State and Consumer Power), for example, there’s very little progress in the electrification of heating as gas is still relatively cheap. In Two Degrees, however, heat pumps overtake gas boilers and improvements are made to house heat retention, meaning that the 2050 target is met.

The extra demand for electricity will require a range of solutions, such as demand side response and electricity storage. National Grid claim that our electricity storage capacity, which stood at 4GW in 2016, could see rapid growth, reaching almost 6GW by 2020. In Consumer Power, there are high levels of distributed generation, making it a good environment for storage – it has the highest level of storage capacity of all the scenarios, with a total 10.7GW in 2050. In greener scenarios, DSR is more popular as there are more opportunities to make savings.

Gas will be a critical part of our energy mix

Gas will remain a key element of the UK energy mix as we make the shift towards a low-carbon future. Today gas supplies more than twice as much of our annual energy as electricity, and National Grid predict that it could still provide more energy than electricity in 2050. As a reliable, flexible and cost-efficient fuel it will continue to be favoured by consumers and it will support us in the transition to renewables. There will be sufficient gas available worldwide to meet UK demand throughout the scenario period.

New sources of gas are developed in each of the scenarios; in Consumer Power and Steady State this is shale gas, whereas green gases are developed in Two Degrees and Slow Progression. All of the scenarios see a decline in production from the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS), with production stopping completely before 2050 in all but Consumer Power. UK production will continue to decline, so imports from Europe and via liquefied natural gas still occurs in all scenarios.

The highest gas demand is in Consumer Power, as the government focuses on indigenous gas supply with just 51% of gas being imported. As a less prosperous but greener world, Slow Progression has a lower demand for gas due to the higher gas retail prices, alongside the incentives the government provides for consumers to switch to cleaner energy. Two Degrees has the lowest gas demand as the environment is the highest priority and investment is instead focused on renewable and sustainable technologies.

Stay up-to-date

If you’re interested in finding out more about the future of energy in the UK, you can watch the talks from our forward-looking Summer Utilities Forum here, and pre-register for our Future Utilities Manager report here – don’t miss out!