Insights / Future Energy Scenarios 2021: paths to net zero

Future Energy Scenarios 2021: The four paths to net zero

16th September 2021

The UK was the first G7 nation to pass a law to reduce all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to net zero by 2050. This was in 2019, and France and Sweden were next to follow suit.

According to the latest Future Energy Scenarios report (FES), published by National Grid, “net zero will only be possible if we start implementing measures now. We can’t wait until 2050.”

The 2021 report outlines four different pathways for the future of energy between now and 2050.

Future energy scenarios
Source: Future Energy Scenarios, National Grid

Each scenario considers how much energy we might need and where it could come from. And each “can be used to inform a range of energy system activities including network operation, investment decisions and energy policy.”

However, ‘net zero’ is a term that’s not always fully understood. So firstly, what does it mean?

Explaining ‘net zero’

Net zero describes a state where the greenhouse gas emitted and removed by an organisation, geographic area, or facility (let’s call each one an ‘entity’), is in balance.

So, as well as reducing its emissions, an entity must capture, absorb, or offset an equal volume of carbon from the atmosphere to the amount it releases. The result is that the carbon the entity emits is the same as the amount it removes, so it doesn’t increase carbon levels in the atmosphere. Its carbon contributions are effectively zero – or more specifically, net zero.

To reach net zero and continue to combat climate change, the world must achieve an overall balance between emissions produced and emissions removed from the atmosphere. It will take significant work across industries, governments and countries alike.

What are the routes to net zero for organisations?

The four FES scenarios are based on a broad, whole energy system view. However, the report also highlights the key routes to decarbonisation for the Industrial and Commercial sectors. These routes are:

  • Demand reductions
  • Low or zero carbon fuels
  • Emissions removal technologies
  • Energy flexibility

Most organisations will need to adopt a combination of these options. While some are available now, FES reports that a combination of long-term government policy commitments, trade agreements and carbon pricing will be necessary to secure future growth alongside decarbonisation.

What can your organisation do today?

There are several ways to start reducing your carbon footprint, but some are far easier (or quicker) than others:

1. Get renewable source electricity

The FES report recommends the industrial sector, one of the most polluting, will need to switch to low or zero carbon sources like electricity or hydrogen to achieve net zero. This is the easiest starting point and, not surprisingly, there’s global momentum. Around 300 companies worldwide have committed to the RE100 campaign, which unites organisations with the shared goal of using renewable source electricity.

Many suppliers now offer renewable power, so it’s worth looking at some alternatives when your existing contract is due to end. Remember though, there’s more to it than the unit price of your electricity. It’s also worth considering the supplier’s approach to working with you: is it purely transactional or a partnership approach? And do they offer added value services too, such as electric vehicles (EVs)?

2. Move to EVs

In the net zero by 2050 scenarios presented in the FES report, all new cars will have zero emissions by 2035. Accordingly, UK organisations have the potential to greatly reduce emissions given the number with large fleets who are making, or could make, the transition to electric.

The right suppliers can help you build a business case by outlining benefits, such as cheaper long-term running costs, to support your transition to EVs. The same supplier should also be able to guide you through the whole process.

Drax is already helping organisations to find the right route to EV integration. As a result, these customers are getting closer to achieving their sustainability goals and reducing overall costs. And, if you have onsite power generation and storage, you also have the potential to create new income streams and reduce reliance on the grid.

3. Optimise energy use and operate more efficiently

Analysing electric machinery, equipment, and other assets can deliver substantial demand reductions and cost savings to your organisation. Similarly reviewing operations and energy usage, and then optimising can deliver the same benefits.

Low carbon heating technologies such as heat pumps, hydrogen boilers or electric plasma heaters also play a part in two of the four FES scenarios. These kinds of technologies not only reduce carbon emissions but help to significantly reduce organisations’ heating bills too.

The report adds that flexibility is a key route to decarbonisation for I&C sectors. Demand side response (DSR) participation is increasing, reducing, or shifting electricity demand in response to the electricity grid being out of balance. It means the electricity system can be more efficient, which reduces carbon emissions, and can mean savings for organisations taking part.

Drax works in partnership with customers to analyse, optimise and trade at the right time to offer a fixed monthly reduction for the duration of the supply contract. For some organisations, this can generate annual savings of up to £100k.

4. Generate your own renewable power

Generating power to maximise revenue is a growing trend across a range of industries. The report states between 34GW and 77GW of new wind and solar generation could be required to meet demand in 2030. The most ambitious of the FES scenarios forecasts that large numbers of I&C consumers would have solar photovoltaic (PV) panels with storage installed. On-site generation can involve wind, solar, anaerobic digestion (AD), combined heat and power (CHP) and hydro.

Working with the right partner will mean having a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) that suits your needs, according to technology, volume and risk appetite.

This partner should take care of the hard work and help you get the highest price available when you’re ready to sell the renewable electricity you’ve generated. The best suppliers also keep things clear and straightforward, so you’re free to focus on your organisation.

Reducing emissions isn’t enough

Beyond these measures, the FES report states we need to go above and beyond simply reducing emissions. Offsetting emissions or negative emissions technology, specifically Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS), provide an answer.

Embedded content:

BECCS delivers a triple benefit:

  1. Negative emissions essential for fighting the climate crisis
  2. Clean economic growth — preserving and creating jobs
  3. Reliable renewable electricity to support the grid as more wind and solar are connected

Drax is a world-leader in this field, with a pilot project running at Drax Power Station and a recent announcement about investing in building more BECCS plants. BECCS is the most scalable negative emissions technology available today to remove carbon dioxide (COշ) from the atmosphere.

Along with other negative emissions technologies, BECCS can help to capture emissions from what are known as the ‘harder to abate’ sectors, such as industrial processes, aviation and agriculture. Capturing and storing these emissions will be an important part of mitigating climate change.

BECCS at Drax

We’re aiming to become carbon negative by 2030 and were the first organisation in the world to announce this ambition. Using BECCS, we’ll remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than we produce, creating a negative carbon footprint for the company. The first BECCS unit at Drax could be operational as soon as 2027, capturing and storing at least eight million tonnes of COշ a year by our 2030 deadline.

In conclusion...

If the scenarios outlined in the FES report are successful, energy consumption in 2050 will be less than it is today. And although the global economy is predicted to be 40% larger in 2050 than it is now, this reduced consumption is achievable. It’s an ambitious vision, but we can all play a part in its success if we keep taking steps in the right direction.

Read the Future Energy Scenarios report (FES) here, and get in touch with us today to discuss how we can help you be part of the solution.

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