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Net-zero emissions
Unparalleled efforts from governments, industry and citizens are required to achieve this target.
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The pathway to a clean energy future

Craig Lucas reflects on a new report setting out the energy sector’s pathway to net-zero emissions, and how Mott MacDonald is already travelling in the right direction.

Achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 will require a transformation in the way energy is produced, transported and used globally.

On 18 May, the International Energy Agency (IEA) released the world’s first comprehensive roadmap to net-zero. It envisages global energy systems that, as well as being clean, are stable and affordable, universally accessible and support robust economic growth.

Headlines include no investment in new coal mining or oil and gas extraction projects, and no further investment in coal-fired power production, unless equipped with carbon capture and storage. The IEA calls for 630GW of solar PV and 390GW of wind capacity to be added to the global energy system annually between now and 2031, and for 4% per year improvement in energy efficiency.

These and other measures require U$5trn investment a year by 2030, which will boost global GDP and create millions of jobs. They will provide electricity to 785M people who currently have no connection and enable 2.6bn people to replace solid fuel as their heat source for cooking. The resulting improvement in air quality will cut the number of premature deaths worldwide by 2.5M a year.

With you on the journey

Our own recently published vision for clean and affordable energy is reflective of much in the IEA report. Both highlight the importance of electrification, hydrogen (H2), bioenergy and carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS). Like the IEA, we envisage:

  • a huge increase in renewable electricity generation. From delivering the first offshore wind farm in the US and Japan’s largest solar array to advancing high voltage direct current to incorporate renewable power into electricity grids, we’re supporting the expansion of renewables.
  • scaling up of H2 production. Initially, steam methane reforming and carbon capture can be used to produce ‘blue’ hydrogen from fossil fuels, to help decarbonise industrial processes. ‘Green’ H2, produced from water through electrolysis, using renewable energy, will become increasingly common as demand rises and costs fall. With the right political support and targeted policy initiatives, we also see the commercial deployment of CCUS technology within the next decade, with CCUS industrial clusters becoming common in Europe, China and the Middle East (see from CO2 to CCUS to H2 for more details).
  • rapid electrification of all sectors. This will require flexible systems, supported by smarter and more digital electricity networks. We’re already pursuing this through our smart energy innovation project with the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, Moata Smart Energy toolkit and investment in smart energy company Piclo. We’re also delivering the UK government’s 2050 Calculator programme, a tool that allows developing countries to trial different options for reducing emissions at a faster rate and to build a pathway that meets long-term emission targets to 2050.

The clean energy transition is for and about people, says the IEA and that is something we echo.

With the right combination of policy, investment and innovation, renewables, H2, bioenergy and CCUS can help safeguard jobs in existing industrial heartlands and provide new skilled employment in manufacturing supply chains.

A clean energy revolution and a net-zero future are possible, the IEA report confirms. Unparalleled efforts from governments, industry and citizens are required. There is no time to waste. We all need to act urgently to ensure we do not miss this opportunity to achieve net-zero emissions, and its benefits, by 2050.

Craig Lucas

Director for energy transformation, Mott MacDonald

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