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Electrification not enough to meet net zero

Although massive global expansion of electrification is underway, it will still fall a long way short of achieving the 2050 net zero emissions ambitions of the COP21 Paris Agreement, warns DNV in its latest Energy Transition Outlook report. Highlighting the global pandemic as a ‘lost opportunity’ for speeding up the energy transition, as COVID-19 recovery packages have largely focused on protecting rather than transforming existing industries, the market analyst forecasts the planet will most likely reach global warming of 2.3˚C by end of the century.

According to the report, electrification of final energy demand is on course to double in size within a generation (rising from 19% to a 38% share by 2050) and renewables are already the most competitive source of new power. Some 50% of all passenger-vehicle sales are expected to be electric vehicle (EVs) in 2032, while heat pump use is predicted to triple, providing 32% of heat in 2050 while consuming 9% of energy use for heating. However, DNV’s forecast shows global emissions will reduce only 9% by 2030, with the 1.5˚C carbon budget agreed by global economies emptied by then.

Remi Eriksen, Group President and CEO of DNV, comments: ‘We’ve seen governments around the world take extraordinary steps to manage the effects of the pandemic and stimulate a recovery. However, I am deeply concerned about what it will take for governments to apply the resolution and urgency they have shown in the face of the pandemic to our climate. We must now see the same sense of urgency to avoid a climate catastrophe. Many of the pandemic recovery packages have largely focused on protecting, rather than transforming, existing industries. There is a lot of “building back” as opposed to “building better” and although this is a lost opportunity, it is not the last we have for transitioning faster to a deeply decarbonised energy system.’

Energy efficiency remains the biggest opportunity to tackling climate change as the world drifts further away from achieving Paris, suggests the study. Securing significant improvement in this vital area is viewed as the most significant lever for the transition – achieving greater efficiency is the reason why global energy demand will level off, even as the global population and economy grows.

Reductions in the use of fossil fuels have been remarkably quick. However, these sources, especially gas, will still constitute 50% of the global energy mix by 2050 – making the need to invest in and scale hydrogen, and carbon capture and storage (CCS) all the more important, says the report. Oil demand looks set to halve, with coal use reduced to a third by mid-century. The report notes the CCS deployment is too slow, with only 3.6% of fossil CO
2 emissions abated in 2050.

The report also reveals that while 69% of grid-connected power will be generated by wind and solar in 2050, and indirect electrification (hydrogen and e-fuels) and biofuels remain critical, none of these sources are scaling rapidly enough. It also notes that solar plus storage is emerging as a new power plant category, which will provide 12% of all grid-connected electricity by 2050.

Hydrogen is the energy carrier that holds the highest potential to tackle hard-to-abate emissions. However, DNV’s forecast indicates hydrogen only starting to scale from the mid-2030s and, even then, only building to 5% of the energy mix by 2050. Green hydrogen is expected to dominate over time, with 18% of hydrogen supply produced via electrolysis from cheap grid electricity and 43% from electrolysis using dedicated off-grid renewables. Blue hydrogen will lose its cost advantage, providing only 19% of hydrogen supply for energy purposes by 2050, according to the report.

‘Extraordinary action will be needed to bring the hydrogen economy into full force earlier – but these are extraordinary times. The window to avoid catastrophic climate change is closing soon, and the costs of not doing so unimaginable,’ concludes Eriksen.

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