FES: Bridging the gap to net zero

Our FES: Bridging the gap to net zero programme is a new piece of work being undertaken by National Grid Electricity System Operator and Laura Sandys.

Our first two pieces of work focused on bioresources and electric vehicles, and you can read more about these, as well as the background to the FES: Bridging programme, further down this page.

Our final piece of work is focusing on peak electric heat demand. We’d love for you to watch our series of videos and then hear from you on a series of focused questions on this topic by Monday 3rd February - read on to find out more!

 3. Why is peak electric heat demand important in a net zero world?

In our Future Energy Scenarios modelling, we look at how demand for heat could be met at peak times, with a particular focus on electrified heat as electricity demand and supply needs to be balanced on a second by second basis.

We are aware of new technologies emerging, and some recent research that could provide us with new understanding of these areas. These include smaller heat storage devices, intelligent hot water tanks providing flexibility via our flexibility markets, and research looking at the ability of buildings to hold ‘latent’ heat for long periods of time.

The 3rd and final piece in our FES: Bridging the gap to net zero series is a series of short videos looking in more depth at peak electric demand for heat.  Here, we look in more depth at why we are interested in this topic, how we currently model peak electric heat demand in our Future Energy Scenarios, and how we are reaching out to you, our stakeholders, with some key questions:

Video: What is the FES: Bridging the gap programme? 

Video: Why is peak electric heat demand important in a net zero world? 

Video: How do we model this in FES

Following on from the topics in the videos, we’d love to hear your views on a number of issues in this area – some questions are listed below.

Firstly, the role of heat storage:

• What are the latest technological developments for heat storage? In FES 2019, we assume that around 25% of the homes with electrical heating also have some form of heat storage. Is this a realistic assumption?
• What kind of policy and legislation would need to develop to incentivise home owners to use heat storage systems over peak? Are there no regrets next steps in this area?

Secondly, factors affecting consumer behaviour over peak heating times:

• How might insulation or any other factors impact how long a heating system can be turned off for without consumer impact / discomfort?
• What factors might influence whether households would be prepared to reduce their heating demand over peak times? Are there no regrets next steps in this area?

Thirdly, the use of heat pumps in very cold weather:

• When external temperatures get very low, how might this affect the performance of heat pumps in the UK?
• When external temperatures get very low how will that affect heating behaviour? 

Please email or leave comments on the videos with your thoughts by Monday 3rd February. Thank you. 

1. Bio resources in a net zero world

For our first piece of work, we chose to look at the topic of bio resources, by which we mean all resources from organic materials that can be used for energy purposes - such as biomass, biogas and biofuels. The use of many types of bio resource are carbon neutral, meaning there has been an increasing focus on their use in a zero carbon world.

We co-hosted a focused workshop in London on 26 November with Laura Sandys, to look at the role of bioenergy in a net zero world, gathering with around 20 expert stakeholders from across the bioenergy supply chain.

Thank you to Richard Millar from the Committee on Climate Change, Sacha Alberici from Navigant and Mark Sommerfield from the Renewable Energy Association, who all presented their organisations’ recent work on bioenergy. We then had a really interesting and complex discussion, facilitated by Laura, to consider:

  • Certainties in what people were saying and thinking about the role of bioenergy in a net zero world

  • Uncertainties / divergence in views

  • Areas where there might be clear no regrets next steps

  • How we might represent bioenergy in FES 2020.

A brief summary of the day is available here, and slides from the day are available here. A longer write up and recommendations will be published in our FES: Bridging the gap to net zero report in Spring.

2. Electric vehicles and their role in decarbonising power

To date, much of the research and analysis in the EV space has looked at using the opportunities from EVs to mitigate the challenges that they bring - specifically how the flexibility from EV batteries can be used to reduce their peak load. We discuss this in detail in our FES 2019 document in the Transport Demand section (pages 76-92).

However, there is increasing interest in looking at how the flexibility from EVs could be used to solve other problems, such as those arising from the high growth of intermittent renewables. In FES 2019, one of our key messages was around the ability of EVs to facilitate greater growth of renewable generation - primarily via their ability to absorb large amounts of renewable power for use at other times.

We have undertaken modelling that suggests that from 2030 onwards there may be periods of significant excess supply of renewable power, potentially caused by different factors such as high solar output, bank holidays depressing electricity demand etc. Some of these periods may be more predictable than others, and hence there may be differing opportunities for electric vehicle owners to help solve this excess supply problem.

We have held nine bilateral meetings during January with organisations working in the electric vehicles space, to examine our latest research and explore questions such as:

  • the amount of flexibility EVs could provide to enable renewables, and the factors that could influence this

  • the ways and markets where EVs can have the biggest role in facilitating renewable growth - and those where they may be less able to play a role

  • the barriers / challenges to EVs providing this flexibility to meet different system needs - and what could be done about these.

Our findings and recommendations for next steps will be published in the FES: Bridging the gap to net zero report in Spring 2020. 

Background to FES: Bridging the gap to net zero programme

Every year, National Grid Electricity System Operator publishes the Future Energy Scenarios (FES) document in July. This document explores what the future of energy could look like between now and 2050, but does not recommend or predict a particular pathway for the future of energy.

In June 2019, the UK government announced a new decarbonisation target - to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050. This target implies wholesale change across the UK, and a consideration of emissions across all areas of society. We therefore want to bring together a wider range of people than ever before, to really understand what the future could look like in a net zero world.

Our Bridging the gap programme has several aims:

  • We want to collaborate with a wide range of experts across and beyond the energy industry, to understand areas of uncertainty and consensus about what could happen in the future.

  • Where possible, we want to move the conversation on from what could happen in the future - to what should happen in order to meet decarbonisation targets. In particular, where there are areas of consensus, are there no regrets actions that the ESO or others could take forward to help us meet net zero as a country?

  • And thirdly, where there are areas of uncertainty, can we create a deeper understanding of net zero across industry so that analysis and modelling can better inform future decisions?

There are many areas we could explore, so this year we have chosen to keep our focus on the FES 2019 key messages. We are taking forward 3 pieces of work between autumn 2019 and spring 2020, focusing on bio resources, electric vehicles and peak heat demand. The final output of the FES: Bridging the gap to net zero programme will be a write up of results in March 2020, with some clear recommendations for action. You can also see a short video from Mark Herring talking about our work on bioresources, and the wider FES: Bridging the gap programme here.