UK energy – National Grid’s 2050 view

Electric vehicles should play a major role in energy sector decarbonisation, National Grid scenarios indicate.
Published: Wed 08 Aug 2018

Electric vehicles (EVs) are something of a wild card when it comes to future planning, given their demand requirements and potential impact on the grid. However, while they will lead to a significant increase in demand, they will also play a major role in decarbonisation, according to the UK system operator National Grid.

In its latest future energy scenarios (FES), National Grid projects up to 11m EVs on UK roads by 2030 and 36m by 2040 requiring in excess of 60TWh of electricity per year. This is driven by the requirement that by 2040, nearly all new cars and vans sold will be zero emission. However, with smart charging at off-peak times and through vehicle-to-grid technology, which also can support the rollout of renewables using EVs as a storage medium, the increase in electricity peak demand could be as little as 8GW in 2040.

The scenarios are developed to reflect different pathways towards a 2050 carbon target-based energy sector and are built on different speeds and levels of decarbonisation and decentralisation, which along with digitalisation are driving its transformation.

National Grid updates its scenarios with input from the sector on an annual basis, taking account of ongoing developments and advances in the sector, such as in this case the new policy decisions during the year on EVs which will accelerate their uptake.

Decarbonisation and decentralisation

While the detail of the National Grid scenarios varies, another general finding is that the capacity is projected to increase from 103GW today to between 189GW and 268GW by 2050. Increasing demand is driven by the increased electrification of transport and heating. By that time, up to two-thirds of the generation could be local.

Gas is expected to play an important role in to the foreseeable future although its usage patterns will change, and in three of the four scenarios it continues to provide more energy than electricity by 2050. It remains the dominant form of heating well into the 2030s. However, by 2050 up to 60% of homes could be using heat pumps.

Hydrogen also could play a key role heating up to one-third of homes by 2050. Production would be from natural gas alongside carbon capture and storage or by electrolysis using surplus renewable generation.

According to the scenario report, action in heat is essential and needs to gather pace in the 2020s to meet carbon reduction targets. A mix of low carbon heating solutions and better thermal efficiency of buildings is needed.

Commenting on the findings, National Grid Director Fintan Slye says: “The continued growth in EVs, a greater volume of low carbon generation and the advancement of storage technology, are among the major trends that have emerged from this year’s report.”

He adds that this means balancing energy supply and demand will become increasingly complex between now and 2050, which will require a coordinated approach across the whole industry. While presenting opportunities for developers and suppliers, data and information flows will become increasingly critical, according to the report.

Additional points noted in the report are the need for markets to adapt to the changing generation mix and the need to review key industry processes. Gas networks and markets will need to adapt and the development of hydrogen and carbon capture and storage needs innovation and demonstration projects to advance these technologies.

Costing the future energy world

Another new feature of FES 2018 is a start to costing the scenarios. While no figures are presented at this stage, initial results indicate that almost half (48%) of the costs are towards transport and 40% to industrial, commercial and residential demand, including heating, with the balance of 12% for electricity generation.

The report indicates uncertainties inherent in this cost split as the costs of electrifying commercial transportation, which are complex due to their size and usage patterns – National Grid expects cost parity (total cost of ownership) between EVs and conventional cars “relatively soon”;  lack of clarity on the best approach to electrifying heat due to its complexity; and the need for further analysis of the network and balancing requirements of low carbon generation technologies.

This work will be continued in the months ahead.