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What will the energy system look like in a carbon-neutral world?

In a nutshell:

 

bp’s ambition is to be a net zero company by 2050 or sooner and help the world get to net zero. An energy system with net-zero CO2 emissions will be starkly different from the current one. 

 

Today, fossil fuels represent 85% of total primary energy consumption. In contrast, in bp’s Energy Outlook Net Zero scenario, renewables, including hydropower, have a share of around 70%, while fossil fuels account for just 20%. Such a transition in 30 years is a huge challenge, but is achievable if governments, companies and wider society all pull together in the same direction.  

 

Why it matters

A net-zero system is about more than shifting the energy mix. It also requires a rethink of how companies and households use energy.  Over the past 50 years, higher global economic activity has been accompanied by a higher consumption of energy, but to help the world achieve net zero while it continues to prosper this relationship needs to be de-coupled. The world needs to find ways to prosper while using energy more efficiently.

Primary energy consumption

Carbon-free energy sources dominate bp’s Energy Outlook Net Zero scenario:

 

  • Solar energy multiplies by 30 and wind energy by 14 between 2018 and 2050 so that renewables account for almost 60% of total primary energy in 2050.
  • The share of hydropower and nuclear in primary energy grows to 10% and 9% respectively by 2050.
  • Fossil fuels that in 2018 represented 85% of total energy only represent around 20% in 2050.

 

Another way to explore the implications of a net-zero energy system is focusing on final energy consumption. That is, the energy that households and firms use in their daily activities.

 

Most people do not directly consume solar energy or wind energy. Instead, they consume electricity and hydrogen generated with these primary sources of energy.

As the chart shows, electricity or hydrogen account for three-quarters of total final energy used in Net Zero by 2050, but, in 2018, they accounted for less than a quarter of final consumption (more on that in an upcoming article).


In Net Zero, oil, natural gas and coal by 2050 are used minimally by the end consumer, representing around 25% of final energy use. In 2018, these three sources represented around 75% of the energy directly consumed by households and firms.

Total final consumption

How much energy is required for the global economy to continue to grow and prosper depends on the extent to which it is possible to loosen the link between energy consumption and higher economic activity. This will require two developments:

  • Improvements in energy efficiency. Technology has to continue to evolve to make it possible to produce the same level of goods and services with less energy. For example, improving the efficiency of cooling and heating systems achieves the same results in terms of ambient temperature while reducing the consumption of electricity.
  • Changes in societal behaviours and preferences. Households and firms change their consumption patterns to reduce the demand on the energy system. A typical example would be to increase by 1 degree the temperature of AC systems in summer to save energy.
Want to know more?
 

Take a look at the Net Zero section in the Energy Outlook.

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