Achieving the UK’s Net Zero carbon emission targets by 2050 will require unprecedented innovation across the economy in new technologies, new ways of deploying existing technologies, new business models, new consumer offerings, and, crucially, new policy, regulation and market design.
The groundbreaking project by Energy Systems Catapult found Net Zero by 2050 is possible if the UK supports innovation and scale-up across three essential areas – Low Carbon Technology, Land Use and Lifestyle.
The Net Zero Challenge
In 2018, the International Panel on Climate Change published evidence on what would be required for a 1.5°C limit and the implications of not doing so.
In May 2019, the CCC recommended a Net Zero emissions target by 2050 to the UK Government, which included supporting research such as our Living Carbon Free report on implications for households.
In March 2020, Energy Systems Catapult updated of its internationally peer-reviewed Energy System Modelling Environment (ESME) to take account of new Net Zero targets. EMSE is the UK’s leading techno-economic whole system model and is independent of sector interests.
ESME is a whole-system optimisation model and finds the least-cost combination of energy resources and technologies that satisfy UK energy service demands along the pathway to 2050. Constraints include net zero greenhouse gas emissions targets, resource availability and technology deployment rates, as well as operational factors that ensure adequate system capacity and flexibility.
Importantly, ESME explores down to regional-level, assessing the infrastructure needed to join up resources, technologies and demands across the UK, such as transmission and distribution of electricity and gas, and pipelines and storage for carbon.
The Innovating to Net Zero report modelled 100s of potential pathways to 2050 – ramping up or down different technologies and behaviour changes – to understand the combinations, interactions and trade-offs of competing decarbonisation approaches.
NOTE: In June 2019, the UK Government amended the Climate Change Act from 80% to 100% emissions reduction – or Net Zero – by 2050. ‘Net’ means balancing any residual carbon emissions with an equal quantity of carbon dioxide removals from the atmosphere.