In-depth: Hydrogen ‘required’ to meet UK net-zero goal, says National Grid

The UK will need hydrogen to meet its goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, according to the latest National Grid “future energy scenarios”.

Hydrogen “could be the solution to many of the hardest parts of the transition to net-zero”, National Grid says , particularly in long-distance freight, shipping and heavy industry.

The annual “ future energy scenarios ” (FES) sketch out four possible futures for the UK’s energy system until mid-century. This year , there are major changes with three of the four pathways reaching net-zero by 2050. In previous years , most FES scenarios missed the UK’s climate goals.

The three routes to net-zero vary in their level of societal change and reliance on hydrogen, but all require large gains in energy efficiency and heavy electrification of transport. They also see a massive rise in wind and solar power, while fossil gas use for electricity and heating is phased out.

Crucially, however, the report warns that reaching net-zero “requires immediate action across all key technologies and policy areas, and full engagement across society and end consumers”.

Future energy scenarios

Each year, National Grid publishes four scenarios for the UK’s future energy supply and demand, based on its own modelling and consultation with the energy community.

These are designed to help the company plan for the future, in its role as operator of the electricity system for Great Britain [National Grid does not operate in Northern Ireland], as well as owner and operator of the country’s gas transmission network.

[A legally separate entity, National Grid Electricity System Operator, now runs the electricity grid. It is this company that now “owns” the FES publication and modelling work.]

Rather than making singular predictions, the scenarios aim to show a range of “credible” futures, exploring key uncertainties and areas where there is greater confidence in how things will change.

Over time, the reports respond to shifts in politics, technology and society. For example, they have moved to higher levels of renewables and electric vehicles, as technology costs have declined.

In a similar vein, whereas earlier iterations of the report had seen domestic shale gas meeting much of the UK’s future energy needs, the fuel plays no part in the new net-zero pathways. This is, the report explains, “due mainly to reduced support from government and consumers”.

UK public opposition to fracking has hit a record high of 45% Just 8% say they support use of the technology > latest public attitudes tracker from BEIS — Simon Evans (@DrSimEvans) May 7, 2020

Until 2017, only one of the four FES scenarios published each year complied with the 80% target. In the 2019 report, the net-zero target was only included as a “sensitivity”,...