Energy programmes

Achieving a net-zero-emissions economy by mid-century will require a profound reshuffling of the energy system, with a major shift from carbon-intensive fossil fuels to clean energy sources. It is not possible to forecast precisely what the global energy mix will be in a zero-carbon emissions economy. But, in its Making Mission Possible report, the ETC developed a vision of its likely shape.

All feasible scenarios involve:

  • A massively expanded role for direct electricity use (reaching 65-70% or final energy demand, versus 19% today;
  • A very significant expansion of the role of hydrogen (accounting for another 15-20% of final energy demand, with an increasing proportion produced from electrolysis) and of hydrogen-based fuels (ammonia, synfuels);
  • Some use of biomass as bioenergy or bio-feedstock for the chemical industry, although limited by the constraints on truly sustainable supply;
  • A remaining role for fossil fuels – in particular natural gas – combined with carbon capture and storage or use (in applications that ensure long-term sequestration).

The balance between electricity, hydrogen, biomass and fossil fuels with CCS/U will reflect technology changes and cost trajectories of these different routes over time.

The mix will likely vary across regions based on local resource availability, existing infrastructure and political choices.

Major investments will in any case be required to scale up each of those four clean energy vectors to meet 2050 energy needs. In its 2020-21 work programme, the ETC therefore focuses on how to achieve this massive ramp-up in zero-carbon energy provision.

Electricity

Future energy systems will be primarily based on electrons. The share of electricity in final energy demand is likely to increase from about 20% today to 65-70% by mid-century. To meet this demand, the size of the global power system should be multiplied by 4-5, while also shifting entirely to zero-carbon power sources. How can this be achieved in 30 years? How fast should renewable capacity ramp up to keep pace with electrification?
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Hydrogen

The hydrogen economy could grow 10-fold over the next 30 years from 60 Mt to 500-800Mt. Due to its energy density, storability and suitability for high-heat processes, it will likely be used in heavy industry, heavy-duty transport (directly or in the form of synthetic fuels), and in integrated energy systems. But how can policymakers and industry players crack the chicken-and-egg issue of supply and demand to unlock economies of scale?

Biomass

Biomass has a role to play in complementing electricity and hydrogen in future energy systems. However, this role will inevitably be constrained by the limited supply of truly sustainable and low-carbon bio-feedstocks, most likely from wastes and residues rather than dedicated biomass production for energy. How much truly sustainable and low-carbon biomass can the world count on? And how to best manage this constrained resource?

Carbon capture

Dramatic reductions in the cost of renewables over the last 10 years mean that carbon capture is likely to play a relatively small role in the power sector. But achieving net-zero emissions in the harder-to-abate industrial sectors would probably be impossible – and certainly more expensive – without a role for carbon capture and storage or use. The ETC estimates that 6-9.5 Gt of CCS/U per year will be needed by mid-century – by contrast with the 33 Mt existing today. How can capture installations, transport and storage infrastructure be built at scale and pace to meet mid-century targets?