Energy Flexibility Required to Reach Net Zero by 2050 - Viva Training Academy

Recently, in an effort to assess United Kingdom’s infrastructure, representatives of the Carbon Trust have made a case for new approaches to system organisation in supplying power to sectors domestic and non-domestic in an effort to lower nation emissions. Based on modelling data of UK carbon emissions, the Carbon Trust, in partnership with Imperial College London, has related their findings and made annotations to the UK’s previous mission of near 80% reduction by 2035. This report comes in light of the UK hosting the 26th Climate Conference in Glasgow this year 2021. The report isolates contributing sectors in infrastructure that heavily influence the rate of carbon emissions, finding that meeting heat, transportation, and industry standards have the most impact on overall carbon emissions.

Meeting these standards has relied heavily on systems of infrastructure dated to prior standards and acceptable limits, with the current singular system of fossil fuel-based energy inefficient at meeting carbon standards of recent publishing. A new system more focused on flexibility in sourcing and implementation is the focus of the Carbon Trusts’ intentions, citing increased efficiency and cost reduction in a portfolio of renewable energy sources with reduced gas-fuelled options as backups. Implementing flexible sources through a network flexible design as part of an Integrated Whole Energy System (IWES), the authors cite price reduction in production with the populational need for energy being met at the same standards as they have been for gas sources.

Values of Adopting Flexibility

In cost analysis for carbon reduction, the findings single out a near 16 billion sterling being saved yearly in switching to renewable power sources, the majority factor being switching to electricity in place of gas generation. Utilising resources in a network model where power sources are interconnected, the flexible guideline sourcing more locally to regional usage in apposition to nationwide that required greater demand on gas systems. Highlights of flexibility include networking available renewable sources and implementing side response technology to have backup power generation as auxiliaries for primary sources. Developing technologies have also seen a greater focus on storing energy from electricity and thermal-based generators to meet domestic and industrial needs for power.

Current estimates project a viable 830 Gigawatts located in battery storage alone, with a supporting 900 Gigawatts from thermal on hand for use in the new system of hybridised power use. Optimising on connected sourcing, the cost reduction rate is projected to absorb any increase in maintenance from slowdowns due to circumstances like harsh weather. Scenarios from the Imperial College London tested an EV-focused system in 72 hours of low winds and below freezing atmospheric conditions where wind-derived generators failed to produce adequate power. In such cases, a backup connection to a gas-fired turbine would support systems at lower emission rates than in the case of singular reliance. Moving to hybridised power generation has shown an easier transition over full electrification of large-scale installed power sources.

Pairing Hydrogen With Electric

While the mainline focus has been on increasing reliability on electrical power sources for infrastructure, some vectors have proven too costly in expanding to largescale production and storage for domestic use. In sectors like heating and some transportation, the developing hydrogen fuel derivative is proving more cost-effective on its return value for the cost of installation. Including methods of hydrogen sourcing and storage, through gasification and electrolysers, the inert gas pairs with electrical power to cover more areas of the source portfolio. Scenarios where powering electrical systems through only electrolysis proved too costly with the network of electric and thermal systems entwined to a point where either one supports and depends on the other to balance its demand and production rates. Following this interconnected by-line, fewer needs for costly reworks of installed systems and appropriate use of management with correlating data monitoring proves highly efficient in providing power for the best cost-benefit ratio.

Benefits of Flexibility

Throughout their review, the value of adopting a flexible energy network lies in lower cost for maintenance while providing more than adequate storage for EV and thermal energy. In adopting a portfolio patterned network of renewable distribution and backups, the calculated return would average shy of 1 bn/yr in savings at the regional level. Keep in mind that this saving multiplies across the many regions established networks of locally-sourced powerplants and counts towards national cost savings overall. These statistics account for the subtle price increase brought by initial buildout and show an acceptable level of capital cost absorbed by saved maintenance costs.

A prime example of the flexible hybrid system being over complete conversion is the cost of switching to a purely EV power source for all sectors would see a deficit from converting established connectors and powerplants. The comparable average of utilities not yet developed adds to nearly 6 billion euros a year to the annual cost of infrastructure, not including stacked pricing of running the system. Relying on a mix of electric, thermal, and established high-efficiency gas-based power like OCGT’s serves as a more approachable method of integrating to meet projected standards by the 2050 deadline.

Path to Whole System Management

Realistically meeting carbon standards requires a planned restructuring to bring current infrastructure to code in line with supporting energy systems across a distribution network, even at a regional level. Fossil fuel-reliant sectors such as transportation and residential housing have primarily developed with fossil fuel and natural gas solely powering necessary functions. Many regional districts will need to accommodate new power plants and build to store power from wind and thermal-based generators. The need for electrical power alone will triple its current demand by 2050, requiring a minimum of 830 Terawatts to meet functioning demand. To comply with such a demand, flexible system management and offshore wind collection are vital to this plan alongside supporting research in negative carbon technology.

Net Zero Carbon Pathway

Stepping away from making power that’s not carbon-based, the Carbon Trust notes removing pre-existing carbon in the atmosphere as part of their restructuring. Currently, Direct Air Collection (DAC) and Bioengineering with Carbon capture (BECC) have shown its possible to remove carbon particulates from the air during the energy extraction process in bioenergy generators. The process has biomass sourced from fuel crops and the renewable green matter produced from existing agricultural industries with few modifications to operating practices. Taking a more straightforward role, direct air capture actively has electric turbines collect carbon saturated air for filtering and removal of carbon matter to reduce standing levels. While not viable as primary solutions due to high cost and potential population displacement, the supplementation of negative carbon technology adds significantly to the effort to decarbonize longstanding power systems.


Meeting carbon neutral goals will require optimising flexible energy systems in a network of connected energy sources. Following IWES, an enhanced form of whole energy systems, key factors of the network rely on accessibility to data collection and analysis to determine distribution in response to harsh conditions and to maximise conventional use for both domestic and non-domestic sectors. To this end, a push for integration of smart monitoring early in-process allows better coordination than in later reconfiguring.

To fully accept the long-term investment of flexible methodology in light of short-term gains and costs of outfitting existing functions, leveraging incentives for financial gain can help acceptance levels. A focus on the general drive of consumers should be shown in developing regulations to give incentives for adopting technologies like electric and thermal. Through digitised monitoring like DSR and TES, real-time monitoring is possible for full effect system coordination and optimum power supply distribution. Scaling system complexity will need to be addressed to be on track for meeting 2050 carbon goals.


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