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Becoming a net zero economy by 2050 will require a complex effort over the next thirty years. How can the UK deliver that transition?

Offshore wind projects, like Equinor’s Sheringham Shoal wind farm off the Norfolk coast, are key to the UK’s net zero agenda

The challenging journey to net zero

Becoming a net zero economy by 2050 will require a complex effort over the next thirty years. How can the UK deliver that transition?

The UK’s commitment to achieving net zero emissions will involve a massive rollout of renewable power, and electrification of large parts of the economy, including the heat and transport sectors. Other sectors will deploy new technologies, such as hydrogen and carbon capture and storage (CCS), to cut emissions. The scale of the changes planned over the next 10 years alone is remarkable.

Decrease of UK greenhouse gas emissions in %

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By 2035, the UK aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 78 per cent from 1990 levels

Climate scientists have determined that reaching net zero globally by 2050 is necessary to limit average temperature rises to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels and avert the worst impacts of climate change.1

In November 2021, the UK will host the much-anticipated COP26 UN climate conference, where participating states are expected to submit updated and more ambitious national climate goals – a five-year requirement of the 2016 Paris Agreement.

There is a long way to go. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says the world needs to cut emissions by 45 per cent (from 2010 levels) by 2030.2

The UN recently reported3 that 75 revised climate action plans, covering about 40 per cent of countries in the Paris Agreement and 30 per cent of planet-heating emissions, would deliver an emissions reduction of only 0.5 per cent from 2010 levels by 2030. Only the UK and the EU have submitted plans with “a strong increase” in climate ambitions. The UK has committed4 to reduce its emissions by 78 per cent from 1990 levels by 2035.

Even those leading the way have significant work to do. Despite the UK’s carbon footprint being just 226gCO2eq/kWh5 over the past 12 years, the UK has set an aggressive carbon intensity target of 100g by 2030.“We can’t reach our 2030 target without tackling transport or heat,” says Dr Andrew Crossland of MyGridGB. “We really need to take leadership on this.”

Equinor has been a leading provider and producer of energy to the UK for the past 35 years. Their supplies from Norway meet 30 per cent of the natural gas demand and 20 per cent of the oil demand of the UK, produced with one of the lowest carbon footprints. Equinor is building the world’s largest offshore wind farm at Dogger Bank off the UK’s North East coast, and its innovative floating offshore Hywind Scotland project has been the best-performing wind farm in the UK since it started operations in 2017. By 2026, its offshore wind operations will supply enough energy to power 5.5m UK homes.

As a pioneer in offshore wind, CCS and hydrogen, Equinor is a key player in the energy transition, supporting the UK’s net zero goals.


The UK has set a target of 40GW of offshore wind by 2030 – that’s a 300 per cent increase on current capacity

One way the UK will bridge that gap is by installing 40GW of offshore wind by 2030 – a recently pledged increase on the initial 30GW target. In addition, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced a target of 1GW of floating offshore wind, nearly 15 times the entire global portfolio of floating wind turbines today6. Equinor, a pioneer in offshore wind, having developed its own floating wind technology, is playing a key role in the UK’s effort to reach these ambitious targets. Construction has begun on the world’s largest offshore windfarm off the east coast of England, which, when operational in 2026, will provide 3.6GW of energy and power five per cent of the UK’s energy demand.

The UK has pledged to create 5GW of green hydrogen production by 2030

Low-carbon hydrogen can help to decarbonise heating by replacing natural gas in buildings and industry; it can replace fossil fuels in types of transport where electrification is difficult, such as lorries, buses, trains, ships and aviation. In industry, it can cut emissions in so-called hard-to-abate sectors, such as steelmaking and cement. It can also be used as a store for excess low-cost renewable electricity. The UK has pledged to create 5GW of green hydrogen production by 2030. This seems like a huge amount, given that just 126MW of capacity was installed globally in 20207, but Crossland says it is achievable. “It comes down to the cost of producing hydrogen and whether you have a market for it.”

Hydrogen tank

Hydrogen, a low carbon fuel, can help to decarbonise power systems, carbon intensive industries and transport networks, and heat homes across the UK.

In the medium term there will be a mix of green hydrogen (produced using renewable electricity) and blue hydrogen (produced from natural gas with carbon emissions captured). The growth of the blue hydrogen sector will also help to build a carbon capture and storage industry.

Under its Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution,8 the government intends to create four industrial clusters or “SuperPlaces” in the north of England, Scotland and Wales, where renewable energy, CCS and hydrogen projects will congregate, and within which carbon-intensive industries will operate. “Producing low-carbon hydrogen at scale will be made possible by carbon capture and storage infrastructure,” it says, “and we plan to grow both of these new British industries side by side.”

As the UK economy emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic, a green agenda is key to the government’s plans to “build back better”. By 2030 it wants to create 2m green jobs in a range of sectors, from offshore wind to home retrofitting, backed by a Green Jobs Taskforce to support workers in transitioning industries.9

There can be no doubt that there is no easy road to net zero, and that the transition will have costs. What is equally clear is that the price of inaction will be infinitely higher. However, partners such as Equinor are ready to support the UK’s energy demand and propel the green agenda forward for the next 30 years.

Dogger bank workers

Workers onshore at Dogger Bank offshore wind farm.

  1. https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/
  2. Ibid
  3. https://unfccc.int/news/greater-climate- ambition-urged-as-initial-ndc-synthesis- report-is- published
  4. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk- enshrines-new-target-in-law-to-slash-emissions- by-78-by-2035
  5. Dashboard – MyGridGB
  6. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new- plans-to-make-uk-world-leader-in- green-energy
  7. https://www.iea.org/data-and-statistics/charts/ global-electrolysis-capacity-becoming- operational-annually-2014-2023-historical-and- announced
  8. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/ the-ten-point-plan-for-a-green- industrial- revolution
  9. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk- government-launches-taskforce-to- support- drive-for-2-million-green-jobs-by-2030

This content focuses on Equinor's role in the UK energy transition, please visit their pages to learn more about their wider UK and global operations.


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