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Net zero requires ‘immediate’ action as EVs key to managing demand

Image: National Grid

Image: National Grid

Net zero will require ‘immediate’ action across all policy areas and technologies, according to National Grid ESO’s latest forecasts.

Releasing its Future Energy Scenarios (FES) 2019 report today, the Electricity System Operator (ESO) stressed the challenge ahead in reaching net zero but also heralded the role of EVs in providing flexibility through vehicle-to-grid technology and smart charging.

Its analysis predicts that 35 million EVs will be on the road by 2050, allowing for the integration of a higher level of renewable generation. Up to 78% of EV consumers could be participating in smart charging by 2050 and up to 14% in V2G, which could provide storage for roughly one fifth of GB’s solar generation, the ESO says.

Participation levels of smart charging and V2G in 2050. Image: National Grid ESO.
Participation levels of smart charging and V2G in 2050. Image: National Grid ESO.

The FES report outlined four potential pathways for the future of energy for the next 30 years and for the first time presented a fifth scenario into reaching net zero.

Across all four scenarios- Community Renewables, Consumer Evolution, Two Degrees and Steady Progression – demand initially reduces due to increases in energy efficiency but this is later offset by greater electrification of transport.

But a net zero results in the highest annual electricity demand, at 491TWh per year by 2050, in comparison to the 422TWh seen in the Two Degrees scenarios. As a result, 20% more electricity capacity will need to be built, from the 218GW of generating capacity in Two Degrees to 263GW in net zero.

Installed generation capacity in 2050 across three scenarios: Community Renewables, Two Degrees, and net zero. Image: National Grid ESO
Installed generation capacity in 2050 across three scenarios: Community Renewables, Two Degrees, and net zero. Image: National Grid ESO

In the Two Degrees scenario electrification of transport and partial electrification of heat increases electricity demand from the mid-2020s. A large increase in output from wind and an increase in solar means that renewable generation could potentially make up almost 80% of total electricity output by 2030.

However, net zero requires ‘immediate’ action, with coordinated policy changes and technology and infrastructure development, the ESO’s sensitivity modelling showed.

Increased electrification of the economy in the net zero modelling would increase peak demand, gradually increasing to 115GW in 2050, almost twice today’s level. Smart charging, appliances and V2G will play a key role in managing that peak demand.

Carbon capture and storage is integral to a net zero scenario, particularly in relation to bioenergy. The role of hydrogen is also increased in net zero over the other scenarios.

The report also suggested that regardless of the pathway taken, a whole system approach to electricity, gas, heat and transport underpins a sustainable energy transformation. Fundamental to facilitating interactions between these is digitalisation and sharing of data, the report said.

This will require significant digitalisation of legacy infrastructure, which must be done in a way that ensures data and systems are interoperable. Data must also be accessible to decision makers across independent systems such as electricity, transport and gas.

Katye I’Neill, head of strategy and regulation at National Grid ESO, said that whilst its predictions aren’t firm, it’s clear net zero is achievable but there are “significant changes ahead”.

“Electric vehicles continue to be a catalyst for decarbonising the system, making it more flexible as well as bringing down costs for consumers too - and whilst gas will still have an important role to play, a clear plan for the decarbonisation of heat is needed.

"It’s our ambition to be able to operate a net zero electricity system by 2025 and the fundamental changes outlined in this report make it more important than ever to take a whole system view to ensure we have a coordinated approach to decarbonising the whole energy sector.”

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