A PATHS2050 SHIFT Scenario towards a climate-neutral 2050 for Belgium: What role can Low Energy Demand play?


EnergyVille expands itsPATHS2050 Platform with yet another insightful scenario

Genk, March 18, 2024 – In recent years, EnergyVille has been researching the optimal way to achieve a climate-neutral Belgium by 2050, and this at the lowest societal cost. In the autumn of 2022, the findings of this research were made publicly available on the  PATHS2050 – The Power of Perspective Platform. Within this framework, Ecolo-Groen now commissioned EnergyVille/VITO to calculate a new sensitivity scenario to analyse the impact of system shifts on the Belgian energy system: shifts towards more sustainable patterns in transport and living, combined with a transformation of our industry towards higher levels of circularity, leading to a lower final energy demand for Belgium by 2050.

A broadened PATHS2050 palette

All previous PATHS2050 scenarios and sensitivity runs assumed a constant production output in industry, and no major consumer or societal behaviour changes. The new Low Energy Demand (LED) SHIFT Scenario now presents a new pathway by including – for the first time – shifts in service demand leading to a reduced energy demand in the transport, residential and industry sectors, turning SHIFT into an explorative ‘what-if’ scenario that provides its own unique insights into the energy debate.

SHIFT thus broadens the palette of the PATHS2050 Platform. Whereas the previous PATHS2050 scenarios and sensitivity runs were mostly based on energy technology and efficiency solutions on the supply and demand side, the new SHIFT Scenario complements this with system shifts that lower the final energy demand throughout the energy transition. Because of the decreased energy demand, 9 GW of additional far offshore wind – imported from further in the North Sea – could suffice.

Main assumptions

The scenario takes into account a switch towards more sustainable modes of transport, heating and producing. In the transport sector, a stronger modal shift is assumed by 2050: more or less a doubling of the use of public transport and active modes of transportation such as walking and cycling, and a reduction of the modal share of cars for passenger transport (from 71% to 55%). For freight transport, similar modal shift assumptions are made, mainly shifting part of the road transport (modal share from 64% to 54%) to freight transport over water (modal share from 14% to 28%). Besides the modal shift assumptions, other measures such as more carpooling – increasing the average number of persons per car from 1.5 to 2.3 – and a 12.5% increase in the loading efficiency of trucks are included as well. For buildings, optimized living and working spaces (a 16% reduction in living space) and a reduction of the temperature setpoint by one degree are taken into account. 

The industry sector is assumed to transform by increasing resource efficiency and evolving towards a more circular economy and manufacturing model. Circularity driven shifts emerge in the industry sector in the shape and form of optimised product design, increased resource efficiency, reuse and recycling. This is underpinned by the EU Circular Economy Action Plan (CEAP) that focuses on sectors with a high potential for circularity such as vehicles, packaging, plastics, construction and buildings. Production of new materials is assumed to decrease: 39% for cement, 33% for ceramics, 18% for high value chemicals, 10% for steel, 15% for ammonia and 11% for non-ferrous metals. The oil refinery sector is assumed to phase out (or transform) by 2050.  

The SHIFT Scenario does not allow investments in new nuclear capacity in the shape and form of SMRs. Possible changes in comfort loss, welfare, wellbeing and GDP were not analysed in this study.  

SHIFT Scenario conclusions

Conclusion 1: The SHIFT Scenario reduces electricity generation with almost 20% in 2050, scaling down the size of the power system. 

In the SHIFT Scenario, starting today, the electricity demand increases with approximately 30 TWh each decade, landing on a 158 TWh electricity demand by 2050. Electricity generation amounts to 181 TWh, which is up to 20% (32 TWh to 48 TWh) lower than the other scenarios that have an electricity generation of 213-229 TWh in 2050. The SHIFT Scenario thus reduces the size of the power system by 15 GW – with equal shares in far offshore wind and PV capacity – to achieve this reduction.

Conclusion 2: The largest impact of the system shift arises from changes in the industry and transport sector. 

The measures implemented in the SHIFT Scenario primarily impact the production of high-value chemicals in the chemical sector – mostly due to more recycling of plastics and less use of single used plastics – and reduced use of new cement and ceramics in the non-metallic minerals sector – due to more circularity and less resource-intensive construction of buildings. These two measures – along with smaller reductions in the production of new materials such as primary steel – effectively reduce the electricity demand in our industry with 18 TWh by 2050. 

In the transport sector, trip sharing and a modal shift towards public transport, walking and cycling reduce the final electricity demand by 13 TWh in 2050. By 2050, road transport is 100% electrified, requiring 16 TWh of electricity per year.  

For buildings, more compact living and lowering the thermostat setpoint by one degree result in a smaller contribution to the electricity demand reduction of 3 TWh to 5 TWh. Electricity use for space heating is limited to 15-20 TWh through the use of efficient heat pumps and efficiency measures such as renewal of the building stock. 

Conclusion 3: Power system investment costs scale down proportionally to the final energy demand reduction.

The SHIFT Scenario scales down the size of the power system and thereby also reduces the related grid expansions. As a result, it can cumulatively save around 30 B€ in terms of investment and fixed costs needed to transform our power system between now and 2050. 

Expanding beyond the power sector, the SHIFT Scenario incurs no extra costs for decarbonizing the Belgian energy system by 2050 compared to a scenario with limited climate ambitions, provided that demand reduction can occur without compromising comfort. Essentially, adopting a SHIFT-like pathway towards 2050 would enable Belgium to realize the energy transition without incurring additional costs. 

Conclusion 4: The SHIFT Scenario pushes CO2 reductions towards 60% by 2030 and 90% by 2040. 

During the period 2030-2040, the total annual system process and energy CO2 emissions fall from 48 Mton CO2 in 2030 down to 12 Mton CO2 in 2040 – mostly because of additional access to clean electrons, enabled by 9 GW of far offshore wind. This additional electrification in the SHIFT Scenario thus brings about a 90% process and energy CO2 emission reduction in 2040 compared to the 1990 levels.  

The largest reduction in annual CO2 emissions occurs between 2020 and 2030, still relying for more than one third (16 Mton CO2/yr in 2030) on Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). However, compared to a scenario without the system shift, the SHIFT Scenario presents a decarbonization pathway which is approximately 30% less dependent on CCS technology throughout the energy transition.  

Dive into more detail here or read the full SHIFT Scenario Report by clicking on the button below. 

Curious to discover the broader framework within which this SHIFT Scenario was carried out? In the summer of 2023, our PATHS2050 Pioneers put pen to paper to write a full-fledged PATHS2050 report, outlining and detailing three main investment pathways to reach the 2050 climate targets, including a detailed description of the model setup, the original scenarios and initial assumptions used.  

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