Coevolution and competition of technologies in a low carbon system: a UK case study

The case study explored a range of uncertainties around future technology cost, performance, deployment and socio-political feasibility to better understand how different technologies are impacted both by the deployment of other technologies, and key system wide factors such as carbon price signal, resource availability etc.

Message 9: CCS and bioenergy are expected to play a key role in the evolution of the energy system

The large scale deployment of CCS drives down the costs of mitigation, both highlighting it as an option that requires much more consideration in policy. However, its effect on costs also means that it strongly shapes the take-up of options across the wider system. There is a danger that this influence is hidden in many analyses and that resulting strategies are not robust to the failure of this technology. Its dominance also precludes alternatives from receiving the necessary focus, and allows for ‘buying time’ to make the necessary investment to effect the longer term transition.

Under ambitious climate policy, the value of bioenergy increases. Whilst this usefully identifies the important role bioenergy can play, there are critical uncertainties concerning future availability, the sustainability of its use, its impact on ecosystem services and concerns of wider environmental impacts e.g. air quality. A final crucial insight is that a number of options are more robust to uncertainty in that they typically deploy at scale under a range of conditions, including offshore wind in the power system, and increased electrification both in the transport and building sectors. Other technologies remain much more contingent on other factors such as resource availability (bioenergy, influencing hydrogen use in transport) or technology costs (nuclear deployment where cost-effective alternatives may not be available).

Such insights, which are applicable to other Member States not just the UK, can help shape future strategy direction. However, they also give rise to further questions given the inherent uncertainty and the issues that fall outside of the model boundary e.g. broader sustainability concerns of bioenergy, legal and social acceptability of negative emissions. What is key is that firm insights can start to shape action now while issues of greater uncertainty are considered further and subjected to further research.

Median generation levels across power sector technologies between 2020 & 2050 Figure 14. Median generation levels across power sector technologies between 2020 & 2050