One of the important changes that needs to take place in the global energy system as it heads towards much lower emissions is electrification. This is the increasing use of electricity as final energy (i.e. the energy we all use to deliver services) rather than fossil fuels, such as natural gas for cooking and gasoline for mobility. According to the IEA, electricity made up nearly 19% of final energy use in 2015, with the bulk of the 81% that isn’t electricity being oil products, natural gas, coal and biomass. The Shell scenario work on a net zero emissions world indicates that electricity should exceed 50% of final energy use.
Over the course of the last few decades, electrification of final energy has moved relatively slowly, at around 2 percentage points per decade (i.e. it was about 16.5% in 2005 and 14.4% in 1995). This rate of change is far below what is necessary to reach 50+% during the second half of the century – in fact, at the current rate it would take over one and half centuries to get above 50%. Therefore, the rate of electrification of the final energy system has to approximately triple over the coming few years for the Paris goals to be approached. At the same time, overall expansion of the energy system also has to be catered for, which might see a near doubling in final energy demand, even as electrification brings considerable efficiency gains.