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Electrification and the route to a net zero carbon future

Written by Vinni Jürgensen

The future of Electrification - engineered by AFRY

At AFRY we believe in creating a more sustainable future for all. That's why Engineered by AFRY is a powerful statement of purpose that guides every decision we make.

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Electrification - a key tool to drive the energy transition

The planet is facing an unprecedented challenge – addressing climate change and moving towards a net-zero future in the decades ahead. To achieve a sustainable future, we must embrace the power of technology and innovation to drive down emissions across the board. One such solution that has been gaining significant momentum over the years is electrification.

From powering our homes to cars, buses, and trucks, electric power has been identified as a key tool to drive the energy transition and sustainable development. This blog post explores why electrification can play a significant role in achieving a zero-carbon future, what the current situation is globally, the ultimate objectives and how industry, partners, politicians, and suppliers like AFRY can take action to make it a reality.

The current situation globally

Today's energy mix is still largely reliant on fossil fuels, which cause high carbon emissions that contribute to climate change. According to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2021, coal, oil, and gas still accounted for 84% of the global primary energy consumption in 2020. This highlights the urgent need to transition to a clean, reliable, and affordable energy system.

Objectives of Electrification

To achieve a zero-carbon future, four objectives must be met:

  1. decarbonise the economy
  2. make transport more efficient
  3. guarantee cleaner air quality
  4. digitalise our homes and cities.

Electrification can deliver on all of these objectives. Decarbonisation of the economy means increasing the share of renewable electricity in the energy mix to power everything, from homes and businesses to transportation and industry. Making transport more efficient means transitioning to electric vehicles to reduce emissions and improve air quality. Electrification also enables smarter homes and cities where technology can be used effectively to reduce energy consumption and carbon footprint.

AFRY's role in accelerating electrification

AFRY has a critical role in paving the way for a sustainable future. By accelerating the transition towards a sustainable society, we are tasked with engineering and strategic solutions that protect the environment while simultaneously creating economic value.

Roadmap to a zero carbon EU energy sector

In the 2020 report Roadmap to zero-carbon EU energy sector prepared jointly by AFRY and Iberdrola, the keys to a successful and efficient decarbonisation of the energy sector by 2050 in Europe were identified. The main report concludes that the optimal pathway to a zero-carbon future needs fast and massive penetration of electric vehicles, that heat pumps will be key to decarbonise buildings and a mix of energies are needed to allow the efficient decarbonisation of industry. In the power sector, a generation mix largely dominated by renewables means flexibility must migrate towards demand-side, where EVs and heat pumps connected to smart grids will help demand balance the generation profile and avoid curtailments or load losses. Hydrogen will be a key complement to electrification, and progress has been made towards a future where the majority of hydrogen can be produced with renewable electricity.

Transportation | Cars, Highways & Railways

Electrification has already demonstrated its capabilities in countries like Sweden, which has set itself the ambitious goal of achieving net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases by 2045. A significant element of this plan entails electrifying transportation, both on land and sea. By 2030, Sweden aims to have 30 percent of passenger vehicles sold powered by electricity, and by 2040, all new cars and light vans are expected to be emissions-free. In one pilot project, part of the Swedish Transport Administration's program for electrification of the state road network, AFRY supported studies into how different types of electrification can be combined to achieve the best effect. 

Additionally, the country is investing heavily in electric buses and electrifying its railway systems, thereby reducing emissions and improving air quality in urban areas. For example, AFRY is working with the Swedish Transport Administration for electrification of the railway section Nässjö – Värnamo. Not only will this shorten travel time but it is an important step in the transition towards more sustainable passenger and freight transports.

Fleets are a crucial part of this transition. 63 million fleet vehicles in Europe represent 20% of all vehicles; more than 40% of all vehicle miles travelled and 50% of all emissions from road transportation. If we focus on only the electrified segment of fleet vehicles, an anticipated 24-fold increase will bring actual numbers in Europe to 10.5 million by 2030, up from 420,000 vehicles today. Read our insight article Going All Electric: Key challenges for fleet electrification.

When it comes to EV charging, AFRY advised Atlante on its strategy to create a unique EV charging network in Southern Europe - developing the largest fast and ultra-fast charging network for electric vehicles in Southern Europe with 35,000 fast charging points across Italy, France, Spain and Portugal by 2030, 100% powered by renewables.

The automotive industry is under a disruptive transition driven by technology trends for electrified, connected and autonomous vehicles, new business models for mobility as a service as well as digitalisation of manufacturing for future industry. At AFRY, we meet these trends by offering design and engineering expertise for all automotive and mobility disciplines. Find our more: 

Future Cities

In this article, we explore the role of mobility in creating climate-neutral cities and highlight some innovative solutions that are already making a difference.The Future of Mobility: Building Climate Neutral Cities. For Stockholm's mayor, a European capital that is fossil-free and climate-neutral by 2040 is no utopia but rather part of a plan to make the city greener and more livable. Read AFRY’s interview with Anna König Jerlmyr, Mayor of Stockholm.

Electrification, self-driving technology, new mobility models; the realm of car design is going through groundbreaking transformations. Read the AFRY article How do cars fit in the sustainable city of the future?

Transmission and Distribution

Following the rapid evolution of both electrical demand and generation, Transmission and Distribution networks are facing new challenges and are undergoing significant changes. AFRY is at the heart of these developments and understands the commercial and technical realities needed to assist clients through this disruptive transformation.

In addressing the challenges of a changing power sector, upgraded grid infrastructures are instrumental in adopting the future generation mix and to guarantee an economic and reliable power supply.

Power cables are a key enabler of the European energy transition. By building interconnections between European countries we can mitigate the intermittence of energy from renewable sources. AFRY is an engineering partner for the expansion of Nexan’s cable factory in Halden, Norway. The expansion project is part of Nexans strategy to meet the increasing global demand within electrification. Nexans is among the leading companies in the world within offshore control cables and high-voltage submarine cables and their strategic shift towards electrification is largely driven by the massive growth trend in offshore wind and large interconnectors worldwide.

Transportation | Maritime

The maritime sector accounts for 13% of EU CO2 emissions in the transportation sector, the great majority of which takes place at sea during navigation. Nevertheless, ships at ports also emit greenhouse and polluting gases so the establishment of a network of cold ironing (onshore power supply or shore-side electricity) represents a simple technical solution to positively impact emissions at the harbour. AFRY collaborated with Enel X to understand the technical, regulatory, market and strategy aspects of the electrification of harbours using cold ironing.

Barriers to Achieving Objectives

However, several barriers stand in the way of achieving net-zero emissions through electrification.

  1. The upfront cost of transitioning to electric vehicles and upgrading energy systems can be expensive and may take several years to see returns on investment.
  2. Competition for rare earth metals and other critical minerals. Crucial to the green transition and achieving carbon neutrality goals, these elements are essential for manufacturing wind turbines, solar panels, electric cars and batteries as well as smart solutions and ICT devices. Footnote: Source: (Figure 1)
  3. Additionally, the policies and regulations governing the energy sector and transportation may not be conducive to electrification and clean energy scaling. Finally, there is a need for more grid resiliency and focus on energy storage, including battery technology, to ensure a reliable and consistent energy supply.

Action Needed

To overcome these challenges, we need partnership and collaboration between governments, industry, utilities, and communities. Industry and governments should develop policies and regulations aimed at encouraging and incentivising the transition to cleantech, investing in renewable energy and grid sustainability. Utilities need to focus on scaling up clean energy technology and implement better storage solutions, while communities need to embrace a culture of energy consciousness and eco-friendly living. It is essential to have a shared vision for a net-zero future and take steps today to make it a reality.

By embracing electrification, we can help build a cleaner, more resilient and prosperous world

Electrification driven by clean energy is a key element in achieving a net-zero future. It can decarbonise the economy, make transport more efficient, guarantee cleaner air quality, and digitalise our homes and cities. Although several challenges lie ahead, including investment costs, policy barriers, and grid resiliency, there is enormous potential to drive change through partnership and collaboration. We have already illustrated how AFRY is working with businesses to enable the transition. Governments, businesses, communities and individuals all have a role to play in creating a shared vision for a sustainable future. By embracing electrification, we can help build a cleaner, more resilient, and prosperous world.

Person on an electric scooter at dusk with lights glowing

Our offerings

If your business is ready to begin exploring how you can carry out a successful transition, explore the ways in which AFRY can help you today. Browse our offerings.