Every year, the UK energy networks’ specialist distribution and data engineers seek to anticipate the future as they produce the Distribution Future Energy Scenarios (DFES) using robust regional datasets and forecasting methodologies. Traditionally running parallel to the four national Future Energy Scenarios, the Northern Powergrid DFES use regional data to plot local pathways to decarbonisation and provide a critical tool for energy networks as they plan for a zero carbon future. The four national scenarios are:
Steady Progression: the slowest credible decarbonisation pathway with minimum behaviour change. This scenario sees the UK miss the target of net zero by 2050.
System Transformation: decarbonisation is rooted in the uptake of hydrogen as a technology and indicates behaviour change at a system level, but not a consumer level.
Consumer Transformation: a strong shift in consumer behaviour to electric low carbon technologies such as electric vehicles (EV) and heat pumps.
Leading the Way: the fastest credible decarbonisation pathway, which demonstrates both consumer and system behaviour change and utilises hydrogen and electrification as routes to zero carbon.
For our 2020 DFES, Northern Powergrid has introduced a unique fifth scenario:
Net Zero Early: rapid regional decarbonisation, expected to reach net zero in the 2040s. This scenario demonstrates a highly accelerated uptake of electric heat and transport within a system that balances this electricity demand with decentralised and distributed renewable generation.
Our Net Zero Early scenario is one that will be developed further for our RIIO-ED2 Business Plan and DFES 2021, where it is evolving into our Planning Scenario for 2023 to 2028; this is a testament to the decarbonisation ambitions of the customers that we serve across the North East, Yorkshire and northern Lincolnshire. But what does it look like? And how are we preparing for it?
Our future energy landscape
Northern Powergrid is ambitious, a key enabler of regional decarbonisation. Like all ambitious targets, achieving Net Zero Early requires meeting the right conditions: it will be vital to enable and encourage the rapid acceleration of low carbon technologies such as electric vehicles (EV) and heat pumps, and to support the growth of renewable generation technologies such as onshore wind and solar PV.
It all points to a very different energy picture in our region by 2040. EV charging will displace petrol stations and electric heating will replace traditional gas boilers, dramatically increasing the demand for electricity on our network. Solar panels and onshore wind will grow rapidly across our urban and rural landscapes, matching growing electricity demands with clean and renewable generation.
Ambitious, yes. But also achievable under our Net Zero Early assumptions: a substantial nationwide charging network will support the transition to EVs, new petrol and diesel cars will be banned from 2030, new build homes are required to fit low carbon heating by 2025, and incentives for building renewable generation will continue to facilitate rapid growth.
Government policy, changes in consumer behaviour and the transformation of the energy system must all work in tandem. And, as a network provider, we must be ready to facilitate the changing needs of everyone we serve.
Strong data ensures strong planning
Our robust regional data and ongoing stakeholder engagement have been crucial to understanding that our regions could reach net zero during the 2040s. Our Net Zero Early is one of five possible decarbonisation pathways in the DFES. We could still follow one of the other four DFES scenarios – although Steady Progression would see us miss the 2050 deadline.
Since we published DFES 2020 last December, we have been creating additional scenarios which we are issuing for our RIIO-ED2 Business Planning period (2023-2028). Included in these forecasts is our ‘Planning Scenario’, an evolution of the Net Zero Early model, which also takes into account the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) targets. This will be submitted to Ofgem in July 2021, and inform our business operations until 2028 where we are striving to continue enabling regional decarbonisation using our ambitious scenarios that are consistent with national policy recommendations.
We will maintain a flexible and agile approach, and to be ready to enable whichever pathway emerges as the frontrunner.
Working with our stakeholders is key. Ultimately, it is their input and engagement with the DFES that allows us to have our finger on the pulse and plan effectively to help them realise their low carbon ambitions.
Preparing in uncertain times
Climate change has sprung to the top of the political agenda – and not a moment too soon. The government’s 10-point plan and commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 68 per cent of 1990 levels reflect ambitions to decarbonise our economy.
As set out in DFES 2020 our Net Zero Early scenario demonstrates that ambitious climate targets can be met by advocating and enabling transformative change across sectors and society. This being further refined into our Planning Scenario for RIIO-ED2 and DFES 2021. Our engagement and expert local knowledge ensure that we will continue to be agile and flexible in supporting stakeholders’ zero carbon goals. And, whichever pathway emerges, our investment choices ensure we are ready to enable all possible regional routes to decarbonisation.
By Mary Black, Specialist Electricity Distribution Engineer, Northern Powergrid