UK innovators must seize the opportunity of clean technology for a net zero future

An Energy Systems Catapult report has found that rapid deployment of low regret technologies and accelerated innovation in novel clean tech could deliver net zero in Britain by 2050.


Energy Systems Catapult’s latest report, ‘Innovating to Net Zero 2024,’ 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 energy system pathways.

The study found that while there remains ‘significant uncertainty’ about the pathway to a future energy system, the options are narrowing.

As such, it states that accelerating the deployment of technologies such as offshore wind and solar, large-scale nuclear, and the electrification of heating in homes and buildings at an even faster rate than witnessed in the past 10 years is essential to propel the UK to a net zero future.

Energy Systems Catapult said that 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).

Investment in 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, according to the report.

Specific analysis also found that the cost of meeting net zero is still within one per cent 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.

The report concludes that deploying clean technologies at pace and scale on its own will not be enough. Instead, it claims that, while integrating all these technologies into a reliable clean energy system is a huge innovation challenge, it is essential for a net zero future.

To achieve this so that consumers and communities are supportive of the transition will require a ‘whole systems’ approach, said the report. It claims that an effective net zero energy system will require an integrated design across different vectors – including hydrogen, gas, electricity – and technologies in a way that allows them to work effectively together whilst ensuring security of supply and low costs.

In a statement, Guy Newey, CEO 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.

“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.”

The report can be downloaded and read in full here.