The UK can meet its decarbonisation targets and successfully go green if the government delivers strong policies, according to a cautious report from the National Grid that acknowledges the uncertainty over our energy future.
The report presents four scenarios, each providing very different visions of the UK’s future, but does not comment on which is the most likely to be realised.
“It’s really important that we have an open and transparent discussion about where we get our energy from and how we use it,” said Richard Smith, head of energy strategy and policy at the National Grid.
“Our future energy scenarios document aims to help that dialogue, presenting a range of holistic, plausible and credible scenarios that can help our customers and stakeholders make informed decisions.”
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It describes “Gone Green” and “Slow Progression” scenarios, the first explaining how the UK could comfortably meet its green targets and the latter detailing how slower progress may be made.
The Gone Green scenario sees a strong economy and political commitment to tough environmental regulations supporting investment in low-carbon technologies.
In this case, “Increases in energy demand due to growth in the economy and spending are offset by energy-efficiency improvements in all sectors,” the report predicts.
Similarly, micro-generation from small-scale renewable energy installations would ease the net demand on electricity networks.
National greenhouse gas emissions would be cut by around 60% by 2035, while renewables would supply 32% of energy demand. The UK would meet both its current emissions and renewable energy targets for 2020 and the upcoming EU targets for 2030
The slow progression scenario plays out in a similar way, but some targets would be missed due to weaker economic growth.
A third possibility, the “Low Carbon Life” scenario, explains how policymakers may remain committed to decarbonisation in the long-term but policies remain “volatile” in the short term.
In this scenario the Grid says that targets could still be met, as the rise of renewables would continue, especially at a local level. However, this would be a world of “low sustainability”.
The fourth, “No Progression”, warns how inconsistent policies could stifle energy investment and technological innovation, causing the UK to miss its climate targets and fail to introduce new ones.
Significantly, the report envisages that shale gas obtained domestically through fracking – a method unpopular with much of the population – will play an important role in even the greenest of the four scenarios.
While shale gas is a fossil fuel, it is less carbon intensive than others, such as coal.
The Grid says that, in the Low Carbon Life scenario, more than 40% of the nation’s gas demand could be met by shale extracted from British earth by 2035.
Alternatively, if no investment is made into domestic production and renewables are also neglected, the report warns that the UK would need to import as much as 90% of its gas. This would leave the country dependent on nations such as Russia and Norway.
Another technology that could have an important impact is domestic heat-pumps – devices that transfer heat from the air or ground outside into a home, thereby generating substantial energy savings.
Almost six million homes could get their heat from domestic heat-pumps by 2030, the report suggests, if the technology is supported by government incentives.
The comprehensive report was compiled through collaboration with over 180 organisations. It is, as the Grid’s director of UK market operation Cordi O’Hara explains, is “not just National Grid’s view of the world”.
“Our future energy scenarios, together with the momentum afforded by electricity market reform, should give us much greater confidence in what the future looks like in the medium to long-term,” she said.
“As a nation, we will only be able to make the tough decisions that lie ahead if we can do so with confidence. We all need to think more deeply about our attitudes and behaviours towards energy use, and how much we’re prepared to change as a society if we are to meet the energy challenge.”
Photo: Ewan Munro via Flickr