Britain will struggle to reach net zero carbon emissions over the next three decades unless consumers are prepared to change their consumption behaviour, according to the latest study from National Grid’s electricity system operator (ESO).
In the new report, Future Energy Scenarios 2023, ESO suggests low-carbon boilers or heat pumps, conversion to electric vehicles and demand flexibility periods where energy used is reduced could all be necessary for the country to comply with the government’s climate goals.
ESO, which is a separate entity from National Grid, warned that “we must act now to achieve clean, secure and fair energy system for all” and that the target of a decarbonised energy grid by 2035 will require a “major transition across industry, regulation and government policy”.
It outlines four potential energy scenarios – including three where the UK reaches its net zero ambitions – which all include behaviour change, even in more conservative situations where the country relies on system transformation rather than consumer transformation.
In the case of a system transformation, ESO expects typical consumers will have to upgrade to hydrogen boilers, while also requiring electric vehicle adoption and energy efficiency measures like insulation.
In the slightly more assertive shift to net zero with consumer transformation, electricity demand will be smartly controlled to provide flexibility to the system, while most homeowners will use an electric heat pump with a low temperature heating system. Demand would be managed through flexible technologies
such as energy storage and smart energy management.
Meanwhile, a potential ‘Leading the Way’ outcome, where the UK reaches net zero in 2046, will require even more energy efficiency improvements to drive down energy demand, with homes retrofitted with measures such as triple glazing and external wall insulation, along with a steep increase in smart energy services.
There is also a scenario where the UK misses net zero, where decarbonisation occurs at a lower rate with a sustained heavy reliance on natural gas, particularly for domestic heating, while electric vehicle take-up grows more slowly than hoped.
As it stands, 85 per cent of the UK’s housing stock is heated with natural gas while also being among the least energy efficient in Europe, while EV charging points lag behind demand for new vehicles.
Stew Horne, head of policy at climate group the Energy Saving Trust, said: “While the solutions outlined in the scenarios today raise questions over who pays, when, and how to ensure it’s fair for all, we do know that a clear, long-term plan is needed to create certainty for industry and consumers to enable the net zero transition. There are still opportunities for the UK government to provide such clarity this year, not least in its autumn statement.
“The Future Energy Scenarios show that decarbonising energy is possible by 2050, but only if we act now.”