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ETI highlights possible options, choices and actions involved in a UK transition to a low carbon energy system

ETI | Energy Technologies Institute

4 min read Partner content

ETI publishes scenarios depicting a low carbon energy system transition

Two potential scenarios showing how the UK can transition to a low carbon energy system have been published by the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI).

The “Options, Choices, Actions” Report displays how the UK can implement an affordable 35 year transition to a low carbon energy system by 2050, but there are different ways of getting there.

It concentrates on two potential scenarios called Clockwork and Patchwork.

Clockwork shows what could happen if well-coordinated, long term investments allow new energy infrastructure to be installed in a carefully planned and ordered manner.

A regular build of new nuclear, CCS plants and renewables ensures a steady decarbonisation of the power sector and through national-level planning enables the deployment of large-scale district heating networks resulting in the local gas distribution network retiring incrementally from 2040 onwards.

Due to a strong role for emissions offsetting, the transportation system remains in the earlier stages of a transition and people and companies continue to buy and use vehicles in a similar way to today, albeit with regulation and innovation continuing to improve their efficiency.

In the Patchwork scenario central government takes less of a leading role so an informal network of distinct energy strategies develop at a regional level. Society becomes more actively engaged in decarbonisation, partly by choice and partly in response to higher costs.

Popular attention is paid to other social and environmental values, influencing decision-making.

There is a more limited role for emissions offsetting requiring increased extensive decarbonisation in parallel across all sectors, including transport. Cities and regions compete for central support to meet energy needs which is tailored to local preferences and resources.

Over time central government begins to integrate the patchwork of networks to provide national solutions.

The scenarios were developed using ESME, the ETI’s Energy System Modelling Environment, an internationally peer-reviewed national energy system design and planning tool which examines the effects on heat, power, transport and the infrastructure that links them.

Dr Scott Milne. ETI Strategy Analyst and Scenarios Project Lead said:

“The two scenarios we have described are not intended to be predictions or forecasts of the most probable outcomes, but we hope they will inform and provoke debate, and progress thinking about how we power the UK in the future.

“They are both plausible and affordable but require considerable co-ordination and planning as well as consumer and social engagement.

“We have around 10 years to plan, prepare and build up a suite of key low carbon technology options for the long term. During this time we recommend that the UK focuses its resources on learning about – and developing the capacity to implement – a basket of the most attractive supply and demand technologies.

“This includes bioenergy, carbon capture and storage, new nuclear, offshore wind, gaseous systems, efficiency of vehicles and efficiency/heat provision for buildings. Of these, bioenergy and CCS are by far the most critical because of the flexibility they bring to the system and the economic value they create through “negative emissions”, offsetting potentially expensive decarbonisation activity.

“Whether people prefer the vision of Clockwork or Patchwork or elements of each, the important thing is that our energy system works to the benefit of all. To that end, we hope these scenarios will stimulate discussion of our analysis and insights so that we continue to learn together.

“By 2025, choices must be made regarding infrastructure design for the long-term. Closing down our options too soon could prove unnecessarily costly for the UK, but the bigger threat is failing to build up those options at all. That is why it is so important to get it right.”

Last month the ETI published an Insight report “Targets, technologies, infrastructure and investments – preparing the UK for the energy transition” which concluded that the UK can implement an affordable transition to a low carbon energy system over the next 35 years by developing, commercialising and integrating technologies and solutions that are already known, but underdeveloped.

It also warned that decisions taken in the next decade are critical in preparing for the transition and crucial decisions must be made about the design of the UK future energy system by 2025 to avoid wasting investment and ensure the 2050 targets remain achievable.

Information on the Scenarios including the report, video and an infographic can be found at

The Transitions Insight Report can be found at