ETI aims to spark debate over UK’s transition to low carbon energy system

The Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) has foreseen two possible scenarios to enable an affordable 35-year transition to a low carbon energy system, promoting debate over the critical decisions the UK must soon make.

ETI strategy analyst Dr Scott Milne said: “We have around 10 years to plan, prepare and build up a suite of key low carbon technology options for the long term. During this time we recommend that the UK focuses its resources on learning about – and developing the capacity to implement – a basket of the most attractive supply and demand technologies.” 

The ETI used its Energy System Modelling Environment, a national energy system design and planning tool, to create the two scenarios, but said in its report it did not intend them to be predictions or forecasts of the most probably outcomes, but instead “inform and provoke debate”.

Scenario one, called Clockwork, would be primarily led by government with co-ordinated, long term investment allowing the installation of new energy infrastructure, such as a regular build of nuclear, Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) plants and renewables. National-level planning would enable the deployment of large-scale district heating networks meaning the local gas distribution network would be redundant from 2040.

The transportation system would be little changed with regulation and innovation improving existing vehicles.

Regional level strategy

The second scenario, called Patchwork, would be led by a society becoming actively engaged with decarbonisation, with popular attention paid to various social and environmental values. The ETI believes this would result in an informal network of energy strategies at regional level, and an increased role for all sectors in the transition, including transport.

Cities and regions would have to compete for support to meet regional needs, as the Government integrates the different regional networks into one national solution over time.

A basket of technolgies

Milne added that the most attractive technologies “include bioenergy, CCS, new nuclear, offshore wind, gaseous systems, efficiency of vehicles and efficiency/heat provision for buildings. Of these, bioenergy and CCS are by far the most critical because of the flexibility they bring to the system and the economic value they create through “negative emissions”, offsetting potentially expensive decarbonisation activity.” 

“By 2025, choices must be made regarding infrastructure design for the long-term. Closing down our options too soon could prove unnecessarily costly for the UK, but the bigger threat is failing to build up those options at all. That is why it is so important to get it right.”

An exciting opportunity

The ETI has today asserted calls it made last month that bioenergy and (CCS) technologies must be included in the UK’s low-carbon plans and critical decisions about the UK’s future energy supply need to be taken by 2025 to avoid wasting investment and ensure 2050 targets remain achievable.

Speaking exclusively to edie, Green Party leader Natalie Bennett has also been considering the UK’s transition, saying that the UK has a “tremendously exciting opportunity” to develop a green economy, but that more stable, long-term policies will be needed from the next Government to avoid falling behind the rest of Europe. She said that leaving the transition up to the market was failing, and what is needed is a mixed economy of electricity supply and distribution with a diversity of public and private participants, community, co-operative and municipal distribution.

Lucinda Dann

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