‘UK can reach net zero with technologies already widely available’, says new report


NEW report, published today by Centre for Alternative Technology, shows ‘how the UK could cut greenhouse gas emissions to net zero using only proven technology.’

The report, Zero Carbon Britain: Rising to the Climate Emergency, models the changes to energy, buildings, transport, industry, diets and land use that could reduce energy demand by 60%, provide 100% renewable energy, and cut emissions from agriculture and industry whilst creating natural carbon capture through reforestation and peatland restoration.

This combination of ‘powering down’ energy use through increased efficiency and behaviour change, ‘powering up’ clean renewable energy supplies and transforming land use could allow the UK to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions without relying on as yet unproven technologies, such as carbon capture and storage or direct air capture.

Paul Allen, the Project Coordinator, said: “Relying on speculative future technology to get to net zero risks overshooting the remaining carbon budget, resulting in the very real possibility of global temperature rises of 2°C or more.

“By modelling a zero carbon scenario using only technology that is ready to be rolled out at scale, our research shows that there is no good reason to take this risk. We have the technology to combat climate change, and we can start today.”

Changes to buildings, transport and industry could help to reduce UK energy demand by 60%. Key features of the Zero Carbon Britain model include:

  • Buildings: having high ‘Passivhaus’ standards for new buildings, retrofitting all existing buildings, and improving internal temperature control could reduce energy demand for heating by around 50%.
  • Transport: reducing how much we travel, and changing how we travel – with more use of public transport, walking, cycling, switching to efficient electric vehicles and two thirds less flying – could reduce energy demand for transport by 78%.

The report shows how it is possible to supply 100% of the UK’s ‘powered-down’ energy demand with renewable and carbon neutral energy sources, without fossil fuels or nuclear.

In the Zero Carbon Britain energy scenario:

  • Many different renewable energy sources suited to the UK, solar, geothermal, hydro, tidal and others, are used to produce electricity and heat, with wind energy providing around half of the energy supply.
  • Most of the energy in the scenario (around 66%) is provided as electricity.
  • Carbon neutral synthetic fuels play an important role where it is not possible to use electricity, for example, in some areas of industry and transport and as back up for the energy system.

To ensure that energy is available at all times, Centre for Alternative Technology researchers looked at ten years of real weather data to examine how much energy could be captured by renewable energy systems.

By matching this to ten years of energy demand patterns, adjusted to take account of the modelled energy savings, researchers were able to plan for possible shortfalls.

The hourly modelling shows a surplus of energy 74% of the time, with energy provided at other times by shifting demand using smart appliances and by storing energy.

Batteries, pumped storage and heat storage can be used for short-term energy storage over hours or days, while hydrogen and carbon neutral synthetic gas (which can be dispatched quickly into the electricity grid when needed) can be used for long-term energy storage over weeks or months.

Peter Tyldesley, Chief Executive Officer of Centre for Alternative Technology, said: “Our research shows how the UK could achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions in a way that also helps improve our quality of life and enhances biodiversity.

“What’s now urgently needed is a UK Zero Carbon Action Plan with policy frameworks and large-scale investment to support the roll out of these solutions as quickly as possible.”

 You can read the full report here.