UK Can Power Transport Entirely With Renewables If Used Efficiently

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Originally published on Transport & Environment.
By Sam Hargreaves

The UK will have enough renewable resources to meet its electricity demand for transport in 2050, a new T&E analysis finds. However, this is only possible if it reserves the use of e-fuels for shipping and aviation. Powering just 10% of the UK’s cars, vans and small trucks with e-fuels in 2050 would require nearly three times as much renewable electricity than if they all ran on a battery, the analysis shows.

Matt Finch, UK policy manager at T&E, said: “After 2030 renewable energy demand in transport will rise quickly. It is essential that the UK government rules out impractical solutions like widespread use of e-fuels  in cars, vans and trucks. This effectively means implementing policies that ensure that an ever-increasing supply of e-kerosene is supplied to planes.”

Electricity can be stored in a battery and used directly in cars, vans and trucks. It can also be used to make hydrogen and, when combined with nitrogen or CO2, products like ammonia and e-kerosene for use in shipping and aviation respectively. The report shows that just as there is insufficient land for biofuels to meet all transport energy demands, it is also not feasible for renewable electricity to power the UK’s transport if it is used to manufacture hydrogen and synthetic fuels for all transport modes.

Download: Efficient pathways to electrifying UK transport

Decarbonizing UK transport by 2050 using renewable electricity is a challenge, but achievable given the enormous renewables potential of the UK. However, the scale of transport electricity demand post-2030 means that renewable electricity will remain a “scarce” commodity and must be used as efficiently as possible. Transport cannot therefore be decarbonized one mode at a time, but instead requires an approach that recognizes the greater efficiency of some energy pathways and the limited availability of sustainable biofuels.

Priority should be given to direct use of electricity where possible, such as through batteries, while minimizing the use of energy carriers like hydrogen and synthetic fuels to sectors where these are unavoidable, like shipping and aviation. There is a clear hierarchy for the use of renewable electricity in transport and encouraging the use of e-diesel in road transport or hydrogen in cars comes with a considerable total energy penalty that risks derailing the entire decarbonization effort.

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