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UK report: Energy demand reduction crucial to achieve zero-carbon economy

5 July 2019

A new report by the UK’s Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions (CREDS), based on existing research, concludes that energy demand reduction is crucial to achieve a zero-carbon economy, and recommends that government energy policies should shift their focus from energy supply to energy demand reduction [4322]. In the transportation sector, the report recognizes that in order to reduce GHG emissions and solve other traffic-related problems such as congestion, the number of cars on the road must be reduced, and recommends that the government develops policies to reduce car ownership.

Nick Eyre, CREDS Director, said: “Changing the way we use energy will be crucial to delivering a net-zero carbon UK. Energy supply has tended to be the main concern of energy policy, we need to shift that focus towards energy demand. Demand-side change has to be a major part of the strategy for an affordable, secure, net-zero carbon energy system. Delivering it will not be easy, as it is a broad and complex agenda. But delivering the UK’s transition without doing this would be much more difficult.”

The report covers three energy use sectors—buildings, industry, and transport & mobility—as well as three related issues: flexible electricity demand, zero carbon energy, and policy.

In the chapter on transport & mobility, the report finds that the existing GHG reduction policies—such as the DfT’s R2Z strategy—which aim for a reduction in CO2 emission from transport by technology, without changing demand, “do not appear to be based on a realistic assessment of what is practically possible”.

The UK low and zero-emission vehicle targets are defined in terms of the penetration of ULEVs (ULEVs produce < 75 gCO2/km and include pure battery electric vehicles), rather than the energy service they provide. Furthermore, these targets are “weak and muddled”, with relevant government publications recommending, or working with, different targets.

For instance, analysis by CREDS shows the inclusion of hybrid technologies could lock significant amounts of fossil fuel into the sector well beyond any target date. While the DfT R2Z analysis assumes that 73% of PHEV driving is done in electric mode, a 2018 study of real-world fuel consumption data on 1,500 company owned PHEVs found the vehicles only achieved an average of 45 mpg (168 gCO2/km), compared to their advertised average consumption of 130 mpg (55 gCO2/km)—an indication that some PHEVs may never see a charging cable. This suggests that the trajectory for urgent CO2 savings requires phasing out all forms of conventionally fueled ICE and HEV cars and vans by 2030 and that net-zero (for tailpipe emissions) may only be achieved by also phasing out PHEVs by this date, says the CREDS report.

The recommendations for policy in the transport & mobility sector include:

There are several energy services for which use of electricity as a replacement for other fuels is problematic. In the transport sector, these include freight transport, shipping and aviation. Whilst electric vehicles (EVs) are now widely expected to become the low carbon choice for light vehicles, electricity storage for electrification of road freight, shipping and air transport is more problematic, because of the weight and volume of batteries required, says the report.

In June, the UK government adopted a target to reach ‘net zero’ GHG emissions by 2050. CREDS is an academic consortium of more than 80 academics across the UK, formed in 2018 and based in Oxford.

Source: CREDS | BBC