Full decarbonisation may need a tripling of electricity generation

Expert tells Dublin climate conference of need to design new energy infrastructures

Countries may need two to three times the amount of electricity they use to fully decarbonise their economies, a leading climate expert has said.

Prof Jim McDonald from the University of Strathclyde in Scotland told the Dublin Climate Dialogues conference that the electrification of transport and domestic heating would require a massive hike in electrical generation.

He said the UK estimates its electricity needs will be two to three times what they are now by 2050 with the additional power coming from a range of clean-tech sources, including wind, solar and hydrogen.

While progress to decarbonise electricity has been remarkably successful in the burgeoning of renewables over the past decade, the new challenge is to do the same with heating and transport, he said.


This will require engineering entirely new energy infrastructures, including the construction of “pan-continental super grids” alongside micro grids or autonomous power cells for cities.

“It’s not about a single energy vector, it’s not about a single technology ... we need a systems architect,” Prof McDonald said.

“If we’ve more offshore wind, if we’ve got a target for greater hydrogen production, if we’re trying to get more electrification of transport or trying to decarbonise homes we need to see that in the context of whole system perspective,” he said.

Electric vehicles

Gerard Reid, co-founder and partner of Alexa Capita, said the global take-up of electrical vehicles (EVs) will be quicker than currently envisaged with possibly one billion EVs on the road by 2040.

US president Joe Biden has unveiled a new $174 billion (€142billion) electric vehicle plan with government grants for new battery production facilities and more than 500,000 charge points.

Despite pioneering the technology, the US is behind China in the race to manufacture these vehicles and the batteries that go in them.

The market for EVs in the Republic is on track to double this year on the back of EU directives and Government policies on climate action and growing consumer demand for affordable, greener motoring solutions.

While the pandemic resulted in another poor year for car sales in 2020, sales of electric cars actually rose both in real terms and as a proportion of the market.

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy is Economics Correspondent of The Irish Times