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What role will electricity and hydrogen play in a net-zero world?

In a nutshell

Widespread electrification is the simplest and cheapest way to decarbonize the energy system, thanks to the increasing competitiveness of wind and solar technologies. But in certain circumstances, electricity is not a feasible option – such as high-temperature industrial processes and long-distance road and marine ‎transportation. These hard-to-abate activities mean there is a role for hydrogen – alongside electricity – to play an increasing role in a net-zero ‎energy system.‎

The rise of electrification

In the three Energy Outlook scenarios, electricity increases around 2% per year over the next 30 years, multiplying current demand by a factor of two. In Net Zero, electricity accounts for more than 50% of total final energy consumed by 2050.

 

However, not all energy processes and uses can be technically or economically electrified. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that between 40-70% of end energy can be feasibly electrified.

Share of electricity in total final consumption

The increasing role of hydrogen

Hydrogen can be ‎used for some activities that are difficult or costly to electrify and because it can be more easily stored than electricity.‎ Hydrogen has an advantage in industry as a source of energy for high-temperature ‎processes, such as those use in the steel, cement, refining and petrochemicals sectors. In addition to industry, hydrogen can be used to decarbonize long-distance transportation, particularly ‎heavy-duty trucks, and in the power sector to store large quantities of energy over long periods, for example to meet seasonal demands.

 

Clean hydrogen can be made by water electrolysis using renewable power or from ‎natural gas (or coal) with the resulting carbon dioxide captured and stored (CCUS).‎ The first type of hydrogen is usually known as green hydrogen and the second type as blue hydrogen. Hydrogen can also be produced from biomass and, if combined with carbon capture, could be an important source of negative emissions.

 

In bp’s Energy Outlook scenarios, the use of clean hydrogen as an energy carrier increases significantly as the ‎world transitions to a lower carbon energy system, in particular, between 2035-2050. By 2050, hydrogen accounts for around 16% of (non-combusted) total final energy consumption in Net Zero.

Hydrogen use by sector

Want to know more?
 

Go to the following Energy Outlook sections: The increase in Electrification and the share of Hydrogen.

The Charting the Energy Transition series is based on the data and scenarios described in the 2020 edition of bp’s Energy Outlook. The Energy Outlook considers a range of possible pathways the energy transition may take over the next 30 years, ‎although the uncertainty is substantial.  In particular, the scenarios do not provide a comprehensive ‎description of all possible outcomes and they are not predictions of what is likely to happen or what bp would like to happen.

Energy Outlook 2020

Explore the report, download the data or watch the replay of Spencer Dale's 2020 presentation