National Grid ESO outlines pathways to reach net zero before 2050

Future scenarios for Britain’s energy systems could see the nation reach net zero ahead of 2050, according to a new report by the operating firm for National Grid.

The National Grid Electricity System Operator’s (ESO) latest Future Energy Scenarios report outlines four different pathways for the future of energy over the next 30 years. It is based on input from over 600 experts and looks at the energy needed in Britain, across electricity and gas – examining where it could come from, how it needs to change and what this means for consumers, society and the energy system itself.

Three of the four FES scenarios show Great Britain could reach net zero by 2050 or earlier but make clear this requires immediate action across all key technologies and policy areas, with fundamental changes for energy consumers, particularly in transport, heating and energy efficiency.

In the most stretching of the scenarios, it is estimated there will be more than 11 million electric vehicles on British roads by 2030, and by 2050 up to 80% of households with an EV will be ‘smart charging’ their car, plugging in outside of the evening peak when energy is cheaper and demand on the grid is lower. It says 45% of homes will actively help to balance the grid, offering up to 38GW of flexible electricity to help manage peaks and fill troughs in demand.

Energy efficiency of housing also features strongly with fundamental changes in how houses are heated in all the net zero scenarios. 2050 could see homes no longer using natural gas boilers and 20 million heat pumps instead, with as many eight million homes actively managing their heating demands by storing heat and shifting their use outside of peak periods.

The analysis shows significant changes for the energy system too, with emissions from the sector negative by 2030. This is generated by 40GW of offshore capacity and using Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage, and the scaling up non-traditional sources of flexibility such as demand side response and storage.

The report also analyses the level of societal change needed to achieve net zero, with consumers needing greater understanding of how their energy use impacts the wider system, and how changes to their lifestyle have an impact on net zero ambitions.

ESO’s Head of Strategy, Mark Herring comments: “This year’s Future Energy Scenarios paint an exciting picture of net zero Britain with electricity playing a crucial role in meeting meet the 2050 emissions targets. 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. There is already significant progress being made towards net zero but the fundamental changes outlined make it more important than ever to have a coordinated approach to decarbonizing the whole energy sector.”