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12 Mar 2020

Net-zero by 2050 is possible with targeted innovation and scale-up

Net-zero by 2050 is possible with targeted innovation and scale-up

A new report by Energy Systems Catapult has found that net-zero by 2050 is possible with support for innovation and scale-up across three essential areas – Low Carbon Technology, Land Use and Lifestyle.

The Innovating to Net Zero report modelled hundreds of potential pathways to net-zero by 2050 – ramping up or down different technologies and behaviour changes – to understand the combinations, interactions and trade-offs of competing decarbonisation approaches.

The internationally peer-reviewed Energy System Modelling Environment (ESME) is the UK’s leading techno-economic whole system model – which has been used by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), industry, academia and the UK Government. ESME is independent of sector interests and identifies cost-optimised decarbonisation pathways across the whole system.

Energy Systems Catapult Insight and Evidence lead Scott Milne said: “Last year the UK became the first major economy in the world to commit to a ‘Net-Zero’ emissions target by 2050.

“Now for the first time, we’ve modelled hundreds of potential pathways to get to Net-Zero by 2050, ramping up or down different technologies and behaviour changes – to understand the different combinations, interactions and trade-offs of competing decarbonisation options to reach the most cost-optimised approaches.

“Broadly each potential pathway uses a combination of two different approaches: a top-down technology-focused approach or a bottom-up behaviour-focused approach.

“However, what stands out is – no matter which pathway the UK takes – innovation, investment and incentives across low carbon technology, land use and lifestyle is essential to achieve Net-Zero.

“And there are massive economic opportunities for the UK to lead the world in these areas.”

Whichever pathway the UK takes to Net Zero, it will need to include deploying more or less combinations of:

Low Carbon Technology

  • Carbon Capture & Storage with Bioenergy – may need up to 170 MtCO2/yr of storage by 2050 to capture industrial emissions
  • Hydrogen may need to grow to levels equivalent to today’s electricity generation up to 300TWh/annum to supply industry, heat and heavy transport
  • Electricity generation will need to double to around 600 TWh of supply for huge increases in heating and transport

Required generation mix

  • Offshore/onshore wind – we will need 90 GW of capacity, generating 370TWh
  • Solar – may need up to 80 GW of capacity for 73 TWh
  • Advanced nuclear technologies – may need up to 30 GW generating 230 TWh in a high nuclear case
  • Small modular nuclear – may need up to 7 GW or around 20 reactors at 300 MW each
  • Storage and Flexibility – we need major innovation and deployment in electric and heat storage technologies with timescales from seconds to seasons to manage extreme weather conditions.

Even if we successfully deploy these technologies, depending on the scale achieved, the UK will still need to adopt significant land use and lifestyle changes to reach Net-Zero.

Land Use

  • Livestock production for dairy and meat may need to be cut by up to 50% rather than 20% depending on the success of low carbon deployment

  • Planting a forest up to twice the size of Birmingham every year – up to 50,000 hectares every year may need to be planted for carbon sequestration and offsetting up to 33 MtCO2/yr by 2050

  • Biomass crops regularly harvested for energy (coupled with CCS) – offers more intensive and indefinite sequestration.

Lifestyle

  • Reduced meat/ dairy consumption by 20% will deliver 8 MtCO2e saving by 2050 versus today
  • Slower aviation demand growth – most assumptions suggest an increase in passenger demand of 60% versus 2005 levels, although as low as 20% growth may be needed depending on the success of low carbon deployment.

Policy and regulatory reform recommendations

  • Innovation support for technologies
  • Economic incentives to go low carbon
  • Local Area Energy Planning
  • Reform of power markets

Click here for the full report.

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