Clean Electrification and Hydrogen Can Deliver Net-Zero by 2050

The ETC stated that achieving a net-zero GHG emissions economy within the next 30 years is technically and economically feasible. A profound transformation of the global energy system is ahead – a net-zero GHG economy will be built on abundant, affordable zero-carbon electricity.

April 27, 2021. By Manu Tayal

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The clean electrification and hydrogen can deliver the net-zero by 2050, said a global private-sector coalition, Energy Transitions Commission (ETC) in its report.

ETC is a coalition of more than 45 leaders from global energy producers, energy industries, financial institutions and environmental advocates – including ArcelorMittal, Bank of America, BP, Development Research Center of the State Council of China, EBRD, HSBC, Iberdrola, Ørsted, Shell, Tata Group, Volvo Group and the World Resources Institute among others.

The coalition released two new reports analysing the feasibility of achieving a net-zero greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) economy by 2050 and the actions required in the next decade to put this target within reach.

The report ‘Making Clean Electrification Possible: 30 years to electrify the global economy’ sets out why it is essential but also feasible and affordable to multiply the size of the global power system by 5, while shifting to renewable-based electricity provision. The parallel report ‘Making the Hydrogen Economy Possible: Accelerating clean hydrogen in an electrified economy’ sets out the complementary role for clean hydrogen and how a combination of private-sector collaboration and policy support can drive the initial ramp up of clean hydrogen production and use to reach 50 million tonnes by 2030.

The ETC stated that achieving a net-zero GHG emissions economy within the next 30 years is technically and economically feasible. A profound transformation of the global energy system is ahead – a net-zero GHG economy will be built on abundant, affordable zero-carbon electricity.

Transitioning to clean electricity as the main source of final energy represents the cheapest and most efficient way to decarbonise the economy. The rapidly falling costs of renewables and storage solutions make it possible to achieve the required massive expansion of clean power systems at low cost, according to the reports.

However, wind and solar must increase from today's 10% of total electricity generation to about 40% by 2030, and over 75% by 2050, along with the parallel deployment of other zero-carbon generation technologies (like hydro and nuclear), flexibility solutions, storage and power networks to deliver zero-carbon power systems at scale.

According to the report, over $80 trillion of investment will be required globally over the next 30 years. This includes investment in renewable generation to support both direct and indirect electrification, in addition to investment in electricity grid infrastructure. Whilst large, this represents less than 1.5% of global GDP and is manageable in the current macroeconomic environment.

Clean hydrogen will play a complementary role to decarbonise sectors where direct electrification is likely to be technologically very challenging or prohibitively expensive, such as in steel production and long-distance shipping, said the report.

Commenting on the report, Lord Adair Turner, Chair, ETC, said “we now have the technologies to completely decarbonise electricity generation at low cost: and electrification is the key to zero carbon production in most of the economy. By mid-century even rich developed countries will need 2-3 times as much electricity as today, and developing economies 5-10 times as much. Governments, businesses and investors need to recognise the scale of the new industrial revolution required and the huge opportunities it creates.”

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