8 August 2023

With net zero deadlines drawing ever closer, it’s clear we must act quickly to change course and work together to create a more sustainable energy system. It’s also increasingly clear that relying on one solution is unlikely to bring the desired results. It is much more probable that a variety of different low and zero carbon technologies will have to be implemented and used in synergy.

What this means in practice is that there are many possible routes to net zero, and that results will vary widely depending on the actions we take and how fast they can deliver results. To offer more detailed insight into how the future of energy may look, National Grid ESO has published its latest Future Energy Scenarios (FES) report, which outlines a series of credible paths to decarbonise electricity by 2035, and reach net zero by 2050.

These scenarios are based on extensive stakeholder engagement, research and modelling, which together provide an accurate forecast of how much energy we will need, where it should come from, and how we can transition to sustainable sources while maintaining a highly reliable and cost-efficient energy system.

The report outlines four scenarios, with very different outcomes depending on the level of consumer engagement and policy change. Here we summarise the key takeaways from each, and the role that greener gases like hydrogen will play.


1. Consumer Transformation

 In this scenario, a carbon neutral grid is achieved by 2034 and the net zero target is met by 2050. This is possible mainly through energy efficiency measures and a more flexible energy system. Thanks to strong consumer engagement and robust policy support, home heating, transport and industry are largely electrified. At the same time, energy demand is reduced for all sectors except aviation, thanks to improvements in energy efficiency measures.

This scenario, hydrogen plays an important role in accelerating decarbonisation, with two thirds of production used in aviation, and 20% used to ensure the security of supply in electricity generation.


2. System Transformation

This scenario places less responsibility on the consumer and more on wholesale changes, with hydrogen playing a central role and being widely used for home heating, industry and heavy goods vehicles (HGVs). Hydrogen is produced mostly from methane reformation, meaning natural gas will still play an important role in the energy system. However, this will be coupled with negative emissions technologies, such as carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS).

In this scenario, we’ll produce twice as much electricity as we do today, leading to a zero-carbon power system by 2035, and hitting net zero by 2050.


3. Leading the Way

This is the most optimistic scenario, with a carbon neutral energy system achieved by 2034, and net zero hit by 2046, thanks to highly engaged consumers and a rapid acceleration in the uptake of cleantech and renewables. It hypotheses that a combination of electricity and hydrogen will help us decarbonise domestic heating and industry, and that electricity curtailment will be low thanks to a high level of grid flexibility.

Leading the Way also foresees a high use of carbon fuels in aviation, meeting two thirds of demand. Finally, it theorises that a change in how we use land, and the implementation of Direct Air Carbon Capture and Storage (DACCS), will reduce emissions and lead to a lower use of bioresources.


4. Falling Short

The most pessimistic scenario of all, Falling Short offers an overview of what will happen if we don’t take the required action to accelerate progress towards net zero. In this case, the UK will fail to meet the 2050 net zero goal, despite some progress towards decarbonisation.

In this scenario, we will continue to be highly reliant on natural gas, particularly for domestic heating and industry, and will depend on fossil fuels for HGVs, although small private vehicles will be fully electrified.

We will use hydrogen in moderation because its production process won’t be decarbonised, and will continue to experience high energy demand from end users because of minimal improvements in energy efficiency and reliance on inefficient fossil fuels.


The role of policy

The four FES scenarios highlight that full decarbonisation will only be possible if policy support and consumer engagement reduce uncertainty and ensure we move from planning to delivery. When either of these elements is missing, there is a higher chance of moving towards the Falling Short scenario.

As a result, the FES report recommends that the Government implements a clear plan for the funding and development of hydrogen and CCUS infrastructure, and helps demonstrate the business case for a variety of net zero-critical technologies.

Another key area of focus must be the decarbonisation of domestic heat. The report encourages the Government to make a decision of the use of hydrogen at scale, and to offer more support and incentives to accelerate the uptake of heat pumps.


Consumer engagement and market reforms

Policy change will be of limited use if consumers are not on board. The report recommends information campaigns to showcase how consumers can benefit from the energy transition – from embracing smart metering and other digital solutions, to researching the best ways to improve their homes’ energy efficiency.

Market changes will be crucial, too. The energy market will need a far-reaching strategy to facilitate the growth of distributed flexibility, including the use of location signals to optimise when and where flexible sources are used. Another key consideration will be how the market can support the expected growth in the uptake of EVs.

Finally, the FES report advises taking a holistic view of our energy system. This will allow the Government, Ofgem, local communities and industry groups to collaborate to pinpoint strategic areas for investment, and avoid network constraints and potential curtailment.


Victoria Mustard, Decarbonisation Strategy Lead here at  Xoserve, has the following to say:

“It’s encouraging to see that the FES report places the decarbonisation of heat front and centre of the net zero agenda. At Xoserve, we’re working hard to facilitate communication among stakeholders and inform the public of different initiatives to decarbonise the gas network, including injecting hydrogen and biogas into the grid.

If we act now and focus on strategic collaboration, a future energy scenario where net zero is reached by 2050 is a concrete possibility.”


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