By exploring the six regional visions in parallel, we can start to build a picture of global energy supply in 2050:
- How we use renewable energy resources to power our homes, businesses, buildings, and transport
- How we will adapt our energy systems to the unfolding effects of climate change
- How new and emerging technologies will need to be scaled – and traditional technologies revived – to help achieve net zero and climate resilience
By 2050, our relationship with energy is likely to have changed substantially. Renewable sources like solar and wind power will form a far larger proportion of energy production and will likely be complemented by other energy sources such as waste-to-power generation.
This energy transition is predicated in part on our ability to store and transport power. Advances in green hydrogen and battery technologies will play a crucial role in transitioning to a sustainable energy system. Investments in major infrastructure – from power grids to energy efficient public transportation – will be critical across almost all regions.
At the same time, countries will need to balance other factors tied to energy generation and use, including jobs as well as economic, environmental and health impacts.
Renewable energy mix
Renewable energy sources like wind, solar, biomass, waste-to-power generation and tidal energy will play a big part in the transition to a globally net zero, climate-resilient future, helping to meet the energy demands of households and businesses around the world.
The right mix depends on local context. In places like the UK, which has consistent and often intense wind, offshore turbines will be key. Meanwhile, India and countries in the Arabian Peninsula are looking to become leaders in solar generation, enabled by emerging technology in long-term battery and hydrogen storage.
Improved energy infrastructure and local energy sources
Power is only useful if it can be made available when and where it is needed. With a growing renewables mix, distribution and storage infrastructure will become critical.
Building new energy infrastructure could create new jobs. Meanwhile, new storage technologies could foster self-sufficiency and resilience in communities that have lacked access to a consistent source of electricity, such as in parts of Brazil and India.
As a carbon-free energy system by 2050 is unlikely, carbon capture technologies, such as direct air capture, will be needed to reach net zero. However, these technologies have not yet been used at scale, are not affordable for developing countries and - critically - are not a tested way of achieving net zero targets, despite being a popular choice amongst workshop delegates in the UK and Arabian Peninsula.
Methods for carbon capture are drivers. Energy-rich economies, such as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, are pushing forward mineralisation and direct-from-air carbon capture, while nature-based solutions, like afforestation, were a popular option in each of our global workshops. Nature-based solutions also bring benefits for biodiversity, water quality and resilience.
Building green for the future
There is also a need to reduce energy demand in the built environment. Major investment is needed to make buildings more energy efficient, using less energy intensive building materials (such as wood), and new insulation and ventilation systems.
In the UK, investment in heat pumps and green hydrogen technologies are needed to help citizens move away from natural gas or oil heating; retrofitting is also a big priority for the UK’s relatively old housing stock.
Traditional architecture might also offer simple and efficient solutions. Compared with conventional air conditioning, wind towers used in regions including the Middle East represent a cost effective way to regulate indoor temperature.
Low-carbon and no-carbon travel
Transport drives a large proportion of global emissions, and rethinking the way we get around will be a key part of our path to 2050. Electric vehicles, including cars and light goods vehicles, will play a large role in net zero policy. In order to encourage the take-up of electric vehicles, governments will have set ambitious targets, supported by legislation and investment in manufacturing and charging infrastructure.
Mass public transit systems also have a key role to play in reducing carbon produced by transport. The adoption of these solutions will require major investment, but will also create new opportunities and benefits, including jobs, increases in productivity, and less-polluted cities with healthier residents.
A JUST TRANSITIOn
Every country and community has a differing role in building a globally net zero, climate resilient future, informed by development status, climate impacts, and the availability of renewable energy resources. However, there is a need to make sure that transition to net zero energy is equitable. By 2050, there is an opportunity for those who have found access difficult in the past, such as poorer or more rural areas, to have access through off-grid or mini-grid production, for example.
The path to a just transition may not always be clear. Many communities are dependent on the fossil fuel industry for work. However, a transition could also create cleaner cities, and new jobs and opportunities. Resolving these issues, and building a globally sustainable and just energy system, will require significant international collaboration.