The Path to Net Zero has Narrowed: The UK  Must Seize Opportunities
The rapid deployment of low regret technologies, coupled with accelerated innovation in novel clean tech can deliver us to Net Zero in 2050, finds a new report from Energy Systems Catapult.

Innovating to Net Zero 2024 – the second ‘state of energy innovation’ report from the Catapult – created four future scenarios (Clockwork, Patchwork, Homework, and Dreamwork), using the internationally peer-reviewed Energy System Modelling Environment (ESME), to explore 3,600 different Net Zero-compliant energy system pathways.

The analysis reveals that while there remains significant uncertainty about the pathway to a future energy system, the options are narrowing. Accelerating the deployment of key mature technologies such as offshore wind and solar, large-scale nuclear, and the electrification of heating in our homes and buildings at an even faster rate than we’ve witnessed in the past 10 years is essential to propel us to a Net Zero future.

This should be delivered in parallel to an accelerated programme of innovation in novel technologies such as small modular reactors (SMRs), long duration energy storage, and bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS). These high potential, but less mature technologies, offer the UK’s clean tech innovators an opportunity to capture the high value parts of the international supply chain.

Analysis from the Innovating to Net Zero 2024 report demonstrates that the cost of meeting Net Zero is still within 1% of GDP by 2050. This includes £16bn per year in capital investment from the public and private sectors, part of £600bn in total system costs over the next 25 years.

Deploying clean technologies at pace and scale on its own will not be enough. The Innovating to Net Zero 2024 report sets out that integrating all these technologies into a reliable, clean energy system is also a huge innovation challenge.

To achieve this so that consumers and communities are supportive of the transition will require a ‘whole systems’ approach. An effective Net Zero energy system will require an integrated design across different vectors (hydrogen, gas, electricity etc) and technologies in a way that allows them to work effectively together whilst ensuring security of supply and low costs.

Guy Newey, Chief Executive Officer at Energy Systems Catapult, said:

“2050 is just 308 months away and while the path to Net Zero has narrowed, innovations in mature and novel clean tech gives us cause for optimism. Our modelling has demonstrated that we have credible pathways to Net Zero available to us. But we need to accelerate the pace and scale of deployment to levels not yet seen. There has never been a more exciting time to be a clean tech innovator, it will take unparalleled levels of innovation, combined with targeted investment to make Net Zero a reality.

“To make the transition to a zero-carbon future, we need to make the transition as easy for consumers as possible – and we are seeing huge innovations in consumer-facing products and services that will make low carbon options a desirable choice for households and businesses. If we fail to take consumers along the journey with us, Net Zero will not happen.

“We do not know for certain what combination of technologies will get us to Net Zero in 2050, but our new modelling provides us with cause for optimism. We can meet our targets in a way that delivers for consumers and unlocks economic opportunities for innovators. The UK plays host to some of the world’s most exciting innovators and we are confident they will seize that opportunity.”

Alex Buckman, Innovative Solutions Architect – Flexibility at Energy Systems Catapult, said:

“Whilst there are plenty of things we don’t know about the future, our analysis has shown that there is much more that we can be certain about. If we continue to innovate and strive for a well-planned and integrated transition to a Net Zero energy system, it can be affordable and could provide huge opportunities for UK companies, benefitting UK citizens and beyond.”

The analysis points to the areas of the energy system that require the most urgent focus on innovation – power, heat, and transport – without which, the UK will depend more on significant lifestyle changes. On their own, each of these technology innovation areas is ambitious. When combined, the importance of coordinated and focused action is clear.