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National Grid scenarios show we can meet our carbon commitments

Our energy landscape is changing rapidly – just last week, the UK was powered without coal for over 1,000 hours, which is over 60% higher than last years’ total. The current pace with which we’re moving forward makes it difficult to accurately predict where we’ll be in just a few years’ time, but the National Grid’s annual Future Energy Scenarios (FES) report provides us with several prospective scenarios for our energy future out to 2050.

This year, the FES have an increased focus on the decarbonisation and decentralisation of our energy system, two factors which will greatly influence how and whether we can meet our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions target for 2050. The scenarios have identified some key actions we’ll need to take to ensure we can balance supply and demand while working towards these targets, including:

Adapting to new generation

We’re becoming increasingly reliant on intermittent renewable generation and decentralised generation, and our electricity system will need to adapt in order to meet increased demand from electric vehicles (EVs).

National Grid predicts that generation capacity will increase from 103GW today, to 178GW – 268GW by 2050. In all of their scenarios, our energy system is much more decentralised in the future than it is now, with local generation set to increase substantially. We currently have just 23GW of distributed generation and 5GW of microgeneration, which accounts for 27% of total capacity, and National Grid claims that local generation could account for up to 45% of total generation capacity by 2050.

This means that smaller scale generators like solar and wind turbines, which aren’t directly linked to the transmission network, will have a greater role to play in our future energy system. Offshore wind generation grows particularly strongly in all scenarios, with the most optimistic scenario predicting offshore wind capacity of 43GW by 2050, compared to just under 8GW today.

Using EVs to facilitate electricity decarbonisation

As adoption of EVs continues to rise, National Grid has significantly increased its predictions for the number of EVs on the roads. They now believe that there could be as many as 36m EVs in the UK by 2040, which is up from their 2017 prediction of just 17m.

While the growth in EVs will put a greater strain on the grid, National Grid claims that there’s also potential for EVs to support our transition to a cleaner electricity system. They believe that the majority of EV owners will avoid charging during peak times, particularly once time-of-use tariffs become more widespread, and that if customers use smart charging and Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) technologies then they could mitigate the impact of the influx of EVs on the grid.

If smart charging and V2G technologies are developed and used in line with EV adoption, the increase in power demand could be limited to just 8GW by 2040. The most ambitious scenario predicts that 14% of EV owners will be charging their EVs using V2G technology by 2040, and these consumers could support a grid that’s increasingly reliant on renewables by storing low carbon generation and providing it back to the system when needed.

Accelerating heat decarbonisation

The FES highlight the importance of speeding up the decarbonisation of heat if we’re going to meet our carbon commitments. In the two scenarios in which we fail to meet our targets, conventional gas boilers are still the dominant form of heating in 2050, whereas substantial changes take place within the two scenarios in which we achieve our GHG goals.

As the path to the decarbonisation of heat is less distinct than the electrification of transport, there are various routes we could take to transition away from fossil fuel sources of heat generation. In one of National Grid’s scenarios in which we meet our carbon commitments, they explore how we could rollout hydrogen gas grids, with support from heat pumps, to decarbonise our heating system. By 2050, they predict that hydrogen could provide heat for almost a third of households, with district heating supplying a further one in ten households.

Alternatively, we could focus on installing heat pumps, as posited in the only other scenario in which we meet our carbon targets. In this scenario, district heating grows on a much smaller scale and hydrogen isn’t used within homes at all – instead, heat pumps have been installed in just under 60% of homes by 2050.

Future-proof your energy strategy

While the National Grid’s Future Energy Scenarios give us some credible visions of how our energy system could change in the future, there are so many factors that influence our energy landscape that we cannot accurately predict exactly where we will be in five or ten years.

At Inenco, our team of industry experts strive to stay up-to-date with developments within the energy market and anticipate how changes within the wider environment could affect the industry. This way, we can help our customers to create a future-proof energy strategy. If you’d like to find out how we can help your business, talk to one of our experts today – give us a call on 08451 46 36 26 or email