Wind and solar can continue to play a major role in our energy mix

Wind and solar can continue to play a major role in our energy mix

A new report from the consultancy firm Vivid Economics in partnership with Marki Aunedi from the Imperial College engineering faculty has stated that the UK power system can decarbonise by 2030 without the requirement of new biomass, nuclear or carbon capture developments.

The report claims that wind and solar can provide more than 60% of the country’s total electricity demand by 2030 which when added to the existing nuclear and natural gas capacity would be capable of meeting overall demand.

The report also points out that 28GW of the current 100GW capacity operating today will need to be replaced by 2030 which will require infrastructure investment.  While the UK needs to further decrease power sector carbon emissions – to a level of 100g CO2/kWh – critics have expressed concern over the variable nature of renewables and to what extent a more significant concentration of renewables could impact on the functioning of transmission and distribution grids. However, Vivid’s 2030 model seeks to ease those fears, claiming that the UK could turn increasingly to wind and solar without jeopardising system reliability.

It should be noted that the report was commissioned by the Natural Defence Council who are known critics of biomass and has recently proposed a new future grid system with no biomass, new nuclear, gas or carbon capture facilities.

This system was then tested for its reliability using forecasted demand in 2020, 2025 and 2030, with four specific tests used to confirm system reliability. These included system adequacy, defined as the ability to meet demand at all times; system reserve, or whether there is enough ‘spare’ capacity to address unexpected stress events; an assessment on synchronous generation capacity to maintain system inertia above threshold levels; and a test on frequency response control capabilities.

The results of those tests concluded, according to both Vivid and Imperial College, that the UK can indeed meet system needs out to 2030 by combining both wind and solar with ‘smart resources’ with biomass removed from the grid entirely.

In addition, Vivid has said that the UK government could deliver such an energy system through a simple set of incentive mechanisms and a route to market for generation plant to provide the necessary security margin, essentially fulfilling the role of the Capacity Market.

Eric Ling, energy economist at Vivid Economics, said: “We now know wind and solar can meet most of the UK’s generation needs. This is great news given the challenges facing alternative power sources, such as biomass, nuclear and carbon capture.”

“Wind and solar, storage and demand response are now low-cost technologies, and capable of powering the electricity system in 2030. What is needed now is to ensure that markets deliver these at scale over the next decade,” Alex Kazaglis, head of energy and industry at Vivid, added.

ILI Group have long advocated that wind and solar can in the long term provide enough electricity to ensure demand is met and carbon emissions are reduced. However, this will not be possible without industrial scale storage and a renewed development programme ensuring that new projects are brought to fruition.

In order for that to happen the UK government must get on board and incentivise the industry. We are not saying that the level of subsidy offered previously is required, the cost of the developments have reduced enough for that to be no longer needed.

However certain mechanisms such as cap and floor would be highly beneficial and an easier path to planning and for grid connection would not go amiss. With these in place the additional burden on the government would be minimal but the increase in capacity and output could be significant enough to fully support our energy demands while at the same time reduce our carbon emissions to the required level.

In addition, large scale storage solutions such as pump storage hydro will help alleviate the intermittency issues that can be associated with renewable energy. These storage developments can store industrial scale capacity when the wind is blowing or sun is shining and electricity use is low, ready to export it back to the grid when demand is higher.


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