Great Britain’s energy landscape is changing rapidly, so what might it look like by 2035 or 2050? The Future Energy Scenarios (FES) 2015 explore credible pathways for the future based on feedback from stakeholders right across the energy sector. But what do the individual scenarios tell us? Nigel Fox, National Grid’s Strategy Development Manager, outlines four contrasting futures.
Under the skin of the FES 2015
“This year’s FES is still rooted in the energy trilemma, which provides a common narrative across the industry.”
Nigel Fox, Strategy Development Manager.
Economic growth means there is money to spend and for investment, so as a result there’s plenty of innovation and it continues at a fast pace.
Source: National Grid.
The future of energy in the UK is littered with unanswered questions. Will we meet our 2020 environmental targets? Will the recent rapid growth in solar power be sustained? How will the pace of economic growth affect Government policy and consumer behaviour? And what impact will innovation have on the way that we produce and consume energy?
These are just some of the areas that feed into the Future Energy Scenarios and each of the four scenarios envisages a very different outcome for what we might experience by the time 2035 rolls around.
Evolution for 2015
Before explaining what each scenario might mean, a word on the changes we’ve made this year. Feedback from stakeholders about our 2014 scenarios suggested the need for evolutionary rather than revolutionary change. With that in mind this year’s FES is still rooted in the energy trilemma, which provides a common narrative across the industry.
We have revised the axes of our scenarios matrix from Sustainability and Affordability to become Green Ambition and Prosperity. The most noticeable change is that we have reworked the Low Carbon Life scenario into Consumer Power, following stakeholder feedback on inconsistencies in rationale.
Finally, we have replaced the previous set of axioms with five high-level assumptions (economic growth, energy user behaviour, technology, policy, and fuel prices) – giving a clearer picture of what underpins the scenarios (see image below for more information).
Gas is the primary fuel in this scenario because it’s relatively cheap and although gas prices are low, Government support leads to high investment in shale gas production. Energy demand is driven by consumer preferences and the market responds with innovative new products to attract customers. This is a world of consumerism, where quality of life drives decisions. Government policy focuses on indigenous security of supply and low carbon technologies. Economic growth means there is money to spend and for investment, so as a result there’s plenty of innovation and it continues at a fast pace.
As a residential consumer you choose to spend your money on your family and yourself, investing in some smart appliances, air conditioning and an electric vehicle because they are new and make everyday life easier. You’ve also installed solar panels because they are cheap and a source of income.
If you’re an industrial and commercial (I&C) customer, gas is also a major factor. Your heavy goods fleet comprises natural gas vehicles and you install a combined heat and power (CHP) unit to take advantage of the difference between gas and electricity prices.
Consumer Power in numbers
- 33.3% – small scale generation accounts for a third of power generation capacity by 2020
- 18GW – the amount of solar PV installed by 2020
- 100 – the number of shale sites developed by 2030
Gone Green is a world of high prosperity and high levels of green ambition across the whole economy. It is also the only scenario in which all environmental targets are met in full and on time. Power generation is focused on decarbonisation and there are high levels of renewables, as well as new technologies such as marine and carbon capture and storage.
As a residential user, you or someone in your family is likely to be driving an electric vehicle – one in six vehicles are electrically-powered by 2035. Smart meters and home energy management systems give you greater control over your energy use; you decide to invest in a heat pump and the new estate nearby is heated by a district heating network.
How about the I&C consumer? You’ve installed LED lighting and you consider a biomass-fuelled CHP unit to generate your own clean electricity. Demand side response is also a way of life for your business and you provide services to increase your profitability, while moving your energy demand when it makes sense to do so.
Gone Green in numbers
- 10% – the level of interconnection reaches the EU capacity target of 10% by 2020
- 10GW – the amount of additional wind generation installed by 2020
- 500,000 – the number of electric vehicles by 2020
Slow Progression is a scenario in which we are all striving towards a Gone Green world, but slower economic growth hinders the drive to meet environmental targets – they are hit eventually, albeit later than planned. The focus is on low cost environmental energy policies and expansion of renewables is hampered by the economic picture.
As a residential user, you want to do your bit for the environment and to cut your energy bills, but you have less money in your pocket to do it. To manage your energy use, you consider time of use tariffs and home energy management systems where you can afford them. Hybrid cars offer a more affordable alternative to buying an electric vehicle and with decarbonisation of public transport a Government priority, you often choose the bus instead of driving.
As an I&C user, you are looking to improve your energy efficiency and to invest in green technologies, but slower economic growth restricts you from investing where the payback periods are long. Instead you opt for smaller projects like insulating buildings and LED lighting.
Slow Progression in numbers
- 8.4GW – the level of electricity interconnection by 2020
- 1.9% – average annual economic growth
- 3,000 – the approximate number of micro-CHP units in homes/properties in 2020
Life in a No Progression world is characterised by low economic growth, inconsistent political signals and a lack of focus on environmental policies. As a society we are cost-conscious and most concerned about the here and now. Traditional forms of generation prevail as limited innovation is directed at technologies with high returns, hindering biomethane production and limiting shale gas developments.
The primary driver for you as a residential user is cost – you don’t spend time and money on green technologies. You’ve still got your trusty gas boiler and if it breaks down you’ll buy another one. If you’re looking for a new home, you don’t seek out energy efficiency ratings and the idea of a heat pump is a mystery to you.
There is no significant change for you as an I&C user in a No Progression world. The lack of innovation in low carbon and renewable technologies means prices remain high, giving you little incentive to switch. Low electricity prices make reducing your energy use a low priority and you see no value in the demand side response market, even if it is available.
No Progression in numbers
- 1 million – the number of consumers with time of use tariffs in 2020
- 6 million – smart meters installed by 2020
- 35% – gas is the dominant fuel source, making up more than a third of installed capacity by 2020
How the future might shape up
One of the questions we are asked frequently at National Grid is: “Which is your favourite scenario?” The short answer is: we don’t have one. This is not to dodge the issue, but simply reinforces the fact that each of the four scenarios presents a credible analysis of very different potential futures. 2035 and 2050 might seem distant dates, but then again decisions in the energy sector are long-term in nature – so too are the Future Energy Scenarios.