The UK can more than halve its energy demand by 2050 and improve quality of life

06 October, 2021

Reading time: 3 minutes

First-of-its-kind research from CREDS shows that it will be difficult and expensive to meet the UK’s net-zero target without serious measures to reduce demand for energy.

The report from CREDS, The role of energy demand reduction in achieving net-zero in the UK, provides the most comprehensive assessment to date of the vital part reducing energy demand can play in meeting the UK’s net-zero climate target. It brought together 17 energy demand modelling experts from within CREDS to provide extensive detail on the possibilities to reduce energy demand in every sector.

John Barrett, who led the team of authors, said:

We have provided the comprehensive assessment on how the UK can reduce its energy demand to meet our short-term carbon budgets and long-term net-zero ambitions. The UK Government has yet to define how energy demand will contribute to achieving our climate ambitions. Given the evidence presented in this report, it is imperative that the UK Government outlines a detailed strategy with supporting policies, to enable energy demand reduction to fulfil its necessary role in achieving rapid emissions reductions in the UK.

Reducing the UK’s overall energy demand provides a necessary and major contribution to net-zero emissions by 2050, with associated benefits that would improve quality of life for all.

A low energy demand strategy could be at the heart of a fair, affordable and healthy route to net-zero. Cutting energy use could:

  • deliver around half of UK emissions’ reduction by 2050;
  • enhance quality of life, with significant co-benefits that align with other policy objectives (health, biodiversity, affordable warmth);
  • reduce the risks and costs associated with relying on untested, undeveloped technical solutions in energy supply and engineered carbon dioxide removal (CDR, sometimes called geo-engineering).

Our positive low energy futures show how the transition to net-zero could look if there was significantly reduced demand for energy throughout the UK economy. Such a comprehensive analysis of the potential for lower energy service demands and higher energy efficiency has never been done at the national level, and offers a new way of thinking about the net-zero challenge.

Five activities were modelled: food and agriculture, transport, residential buildings, non-domestic buildings and industry/products. The model incorporated social changes that would reduce demand for energy (e.g. fewer miles travelled), as well as energy efficiency strategies (e.g. better insulated homes).

Researchers devised four scenarios – ignore, steer, shift and transform demand – plausible futures based on likely social and technological changes. These are not predictions of the future, but they demonstrate what can be achieved with particular packages of policy, social trends and technological developments.

The report outlines a vision of achievable positive low energy futures and makes clear recommendations for how to ensure energy demand reduction becomes a key contributor in achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

You can access the report and accompanying material on the positive low energy futures website.

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