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Carbon Plan pathway: higher renewables, more energy efficiency

Energy saving per capita: 54% Electricity demand: 530 TWh

The “Higher renewables; more energy efficiency” future is based on a step change in per capita energy demand reductions and a major reduction in the cost of renewable generation. This is accompanied by innovations to develop a large expansion in electricity storage capacity to manage the challenges of intermittent generation.

What is the sectoral picture in 2050?

‘Higher renewables; more energy efficiency’ chooses a generation mix with a relatively high installation of renewable generation capacity compared to the other two futures, with wind delivering 55% of total electricity supply. Other renewable technologies, such as solar PV, marine and hydroelectric power also play a role. To meet baseload needs and ensure security of supply, there is still a requirement for baseload capacity from nuclear and CCS. 20 GW of pumped storage provides 400 GWh of extra storage capacity, compared to 9 GWh today.

7.7 million solid walls and 8.8 million cavity walls are insulated by 2050. In buildings, behaviour changes and smarter heating controls result in lower average home temperatures (half a degree below today) complementing more energy-efficient homes. All domestic heating demand across the UK is met through house-level electrified heating systems.

Industry grows steadily and achieves energy demand reductions of a third. 48% of remaining emissions are captured by CCS.

100% of cars and buses are fuelled by batteries or hydrogen fuel cells. These technologies create improved energy efficiency allowing people to drive as far as today while using less energy. There is an increase in the use of public transport, walking and cycling; 63% of distance travelled domestically is made by cars in 2050, compared with 83% in 2007.

Thanks to high levels of demand reduction, extensive electrification of both heating and transport, and the deployment of CCS in industrial applications, sustainable bioenergy has a relatively small role compared against the other scenarios, delivering 182 TWh of final energy demand.

What does this scenario imply for security of supply and wider impacts?

A generation mix with a high proportion of intermittent generation means there is pressing need to balance the system to cope with adverse weather conditions, such as a drop in North Sea wind. An additional 24 GW of back-up gas plant is required to meet a 5-day supply lull and demand peak across the UK as well as innovation success and cost reductions in electricity storage.

Because of efforts made in improving energy efficiency across the economy, the increase in electricity demand is not the highest of the three scenarios despite having the highest proportion of energy demand being met by electric low carbon technologies. However, electricity demand is still over a third higher than 2007.

Apart from its electricity back-up role, gas plays a much smaller role than today, as the UK becomes more energy independent. Net natural gas imports are almost zero in 2050, with total domestic consumption at 100 TWh per year.

Bioenergy is harvested from approximately 25,000 km2 of land area in the UK and other countries. Local air quality is likely to be better in this pathway than it is today. In particular, the damage to human health arising from air pollution, principally particulate matter, could be around 60-85% lower in 2050 compared to 2010.