As shown in our Outlook, there is no silver bullet for reaching net zero emissions by mid-century. Indeed, the world needs to act urgently on multiple fronts, focusing on more renewables, further improvement in energy efficiency, and carbon capture and storage (CCS). For less-mature technologies, like green hydrogen, scaling from prototype to worldwide commercial ubiquity is critical to decarbonize the hard-to-abate sectors.
This urgent and complex challenge requires full energy system thinking: understanding the timeline and interdependencies of technologies, policies, and difficult decisions.
Existing competitive technologies, such as solar and wind power, need to take full advantage of the virtuous circle where cost decline both causes and is caused by the growing number of unit installations. For less-mature technologies, like green hydrogen, scaling from prototype to worldwide commercial ubiquity is critical.
At issue is how quickly, cost effectively and efficiently these technologies can scale, which will be determined by technological developments in tandem with enabling policy frameworks. For example, one cannot model green hydrogen uptake without understanding developments in renewable sources of power; and an understanding of CCS is not complete without considering technical requirements for pipelines transporting enormous quantities of CO2.
A fast-paced transition
A lot can change in five years. It wasn’t that long ago electric vehicles (EVs) were a novelty for early adopters. Now, the EV revolution is becoming visible, and by 2025 there will be 13 million EVs on the roads in Europe alone. In 2016, the variability of renewable sources of power was widely seen as a barrier to the transition; now, with rapid advances in battery technologies, and with other digitally-enabled demand response and networked storage options, variability is increasingly seen as solvable. Less than five years ago, hydrogen was not really on the radar as a key energy carrier.
In this UN Decade of Action for delivering the Sustainable Development Goals, policymakers and industry leaders are more focused than ever on the climate challenge. To meet it, they will need forward-thinking policies, huge innovation and investment, and technology and behavioural revolutions.
They also need full energy system thinking to connect these aspects, and this starts with an objective, realistic understanding of the technologies involved.