Report: Renewables to account for three-quarters of UK's power demand by 2050

The UK could source 76% of its power demand from renewables by 2050, according to a new report from RenewableUK which claims that the nation's net-zero target will spur rapid demand for green hydrogen while attracting more than £50bn to an already world-leading offshore wind sector.

The UK could become a world leader for green hydrogen, as it could become cost competitive much faster, due to enabling policies and low-cost and highly abundant renewable

The UK could become a world leader for green hydrogen, as it could become cost competitive much faster, due to enabling policies and low-cost and highly abundant renewable

The new report from RenewableUK reaffirms that despite temporary setbacks to the renewables sector caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the UK is set to witness a massive uptake in low-cost green power.

The report notes that the UK’s offshore wind sector, which has accounted for almost 50% of the £80bn spent on the technology across Europe since 2010, can attract a further £54bn in private investment. This, RenewableUK states, would help quadruple offshore wind capacity in the UK to 40(GW) by 2030 to provide more than one-third of the nation’s electricity. By 2050, capacity could grow to 90GW.

For offshore wind, a 10-year, £100m industry-funded programme was launched in June 2019 to spur the growth of the UK's offshore wind sector and benefit UK businesses. However, the RenewableUK report echoes a recent study from Atkins, that found that offshore wind would need to overcome a “capacity gap” to help the UK reach its net-zero target.

Onshore wind could also enjoy a boost in capacity, reaching 26GW by 2030. RenewableUK notes that overall wind capacity can grow by 66GW by 2030 to provide more than half of the UK’s power demand. However, to meet the net-zero ambition, total wind capacity would need to expand six-fold from 22GW today to 126GW by 2050.

Hydrogen growth

Much like the Atkins report, RenewableUK expects energy storage and green hydrogen to “grow exponentially”. The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) notes that 95% of hydrogen was produced using fossil fuels in 2018, but there is scope to produce hydrogen using renewable electricity.

The UK could become a world leader for green hydrogen, as it could become cost competitive much faster, due to enabling policies and low-cost and highly abundant renewables. As such, green hydrogen could be used instead of gas in heavy industries like steelmaking. Green hydrogen could also be used to power a turbine similarly to a combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT). Additional uses for hydrogen would be fuel cells for heavy good vehicles and shipping.  

Hydrogen in the UK could benefit from existing infrastructure. The UK has the largest global offshore wind capacity and extensive gas networks, both of which can be used to produce, store and transport green hydrogen.

The EAC is to seek advice on the role of low-carbon hydrogen production and utilisation in accordance with the UK's wider efforts to spur economic growth and reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

In February, the Government announced £90m in funding to help cut emissions from industrial processes and the built environment, including the backing of two low-carbon hydrogen production plants. £70m will be spent to fund low-carbon hydrogen production plants near Mersey and Aberdeen, while a third project will use offshore windfarms off the Grimsby coast to produce clean hydrogen.

In March, a new Hydrogen Taskforce emergedled by Shell and BP, that is lobbying for the UK Government to invest £1bn to boost hydrogen production in the UK.

RenewableUK’s chief economist Marina Valls, report author, said: “This is an incredibly exciting time for the energy sector. We’re entering an era of rapid technological change as we move closer towards total decarbonisation, using an even wider range of technologies such as renewable hydrogen alongside more wind, solar, battery storage and – crucially -  people participating far more pro-actively in the way our modern energy system operates, making it more flexible.   

“Our members are delivering innovative, low-cost, practical solutions in the battle against climate change which remains a long-term threat to our way of life. Renewable energy sources are penetrating the global energy markets faster than anyone expected, and generating power cheaper than fossil fuels sooner than anyone predicted. In the world we are trying to build, the transition to a modern energy system ultimately means two things: reduced emissions and reduced energy bills for households.”

Matt Mace



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