What energy scenarios are required to deliver net-zero by 2050?

The 1.5C limit of the Paris Agreement can still be achieved, provided new policies are introduced to help decarbonise energy and transport, but under current trajectories, the world id on course for 2.6C by 2050. So, what needs to change? edie explores a new report that lays out a net-zero scenario.

What energy scenarios are required to deliver net-zero by 2050?

Huge shifts are required across energy, transport, industry and buildings

The 2022 New Energy Outlook, by research company BloombergNEF (BNEF) was published this week.

The report examines the world’s energy system, and the energy systems of nine critical countries that make up 63% of global emissions, and how they need to change if the 1.5C limit of the Paris Agreement can be delivered.

The report analyses two scenario pathways: one based on existing policies that breach the Paris Agreement, and one where new policies are introduced to deliver net-zero emissions by 2050.

Here, edie summarises what needs to change to reach net-zero.

Net-Zero scenario

Under the Net Zero Scenario (NZS), BNEF modeling found that the world can reach 1.77C and net-zero emissions by 2050. This is reliant on “rapid deployments” in clean power generation and electrification, supported by carbon capture and storage (CCS) and hydrogen uptake.

The move away from fossil fuels will be the biggest driver in emissions reductions accounting for half of all emissions abated over 2022-50. This includes displacing unabated fossil fuel with wind, solar, other renewables and nuclear.

By 2050, the global power system would consist of wind (48% of generation) and solar (26%), with the rest provided by other renewables (7%), nuclear (9%), hydrogen and coal or gas with carbon capture.

Electrification of transport, industry and buildings an heat is the second biggest driver, with BNEF finding that it would abate around 25% of total emissions over the period. BNEF notes that the technology to decarbonise these processes already exist, but the more innovation is needed in areas like heating.

The remaining emissions reductions would be delivered by demand-side efficiency gains and recycling, hydrogen, bioenergy and CCS, which would account for the last quarter of emissions reductions.

BNEF forecasts that CCS capacity would grow from 40 megatons today to 1.7 gigatons by 2030 and 7 gigatons by 2050. Hydrogen use would more than quintuple from more than 90 million tonnes of grey hydrogen to around 500Mt of clean hydrogen by 2050.

BNEF’s global head of economics David Hostert said: “Our Net Zero Scenario shows that a credible pathway to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement still exists, but getting there requires immediate action. Clean power deployment needs to quadruple by 2030, in addition to a major investment in carbon capture and storage, advanced nuclear technologies, and hydrogen.

“To get on track this decade, there needs to be $3 invested in low-carbon supply for every $1 in fossil-fuel supply. There are also critical enabling factors to consider: electrification and economic growth will quadruple the planet’s power demand by 2050. We need to see a massive acceleration in the build-out of power grids, manufacturing capacity for low carbon technologies, and supply of critical metals and materials. These could become painful bottlenecks tomorrow, if left unaddressed today.”

Economic Transition Scenario

The NZS is the best-case transition and the world is not currently on course to deliver that based on existing policies.

Indeed, BNEF also provides an Economic Transition Scenario (ETS), which looks at decarbonisation based on existing policies and if no new policy action is introduced.

Under the ETS, electrification of transport and the growth in renewables continue “rapidly” and eliminate about half of the world’s energy-related emissions in 2050, against a baseline where no such transition takes place.

BNEF states that these technologies would grow without the need for additional subsidies and would mirror the cost reductions in wind, solar and battery technology over the last decade.

Under the ETS, wind and solar provide about two-thirds of the world’s power generation by 2050. When combined with battery storage, these sources account for 85% of the 23 terawatts of new power capacity additions installed over the next three decades.

Power sector emissions fall by 57%, and emissions in the overall transportation sector fall by 22% to 2050, under the ETS.

Global coal, oil and gas use would peak by around 2030, with coal starting an immediate decline, followed by oil in 2028 and gas in the early 2030s.

BNEF notes that the ETS fall short of delivering net-zero by 2050, with emissions falling by 29%, but large parts of the economy still supported by fossil fuels, which emit 24.6 gigatons of CO2 per year.

Overall the ETS would limit global temperature rises to 2.6C, breaching the goals of the Paris Agreement.

BNEF’s team leader for energy economics Matthias Kimmel, said: “The energy transition in the power sector is well under way, and our modeling shows global emissions in the power sector peak around 2023. Despite the recent inflationary pressures, renewables remain competitive and the gap between renewables and fossil fuels continues to widen.

“We’re on the right track, but there is still much more work needed to push for solutions we already know make economic sense.”

Comments (1)

  1. Kim Warren says:

    Surely we all know now that net zero by 2050 is hopeless. “Climate hell” is already here, so every ton of fuel we burn *now* is making it worse. We need “RealZero” now.

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