Urgent boost to offshore wind and CCS required for UK's net-zero target, report finds

The UK will need to facilitate a four-fold increase in low-carbon energy, including expanding offshore wind capacity by up to 75GW, in order to reach its net-zero emissions commitment for 2050.

The UK will be required to build 9-12GW of energy generation capacity annually to reach the net-zero target

The UK will be required to build 9-12GW of energy generation capacity annually to reach the net-zero target

That is the key finding from Atkins Global’s Engineering Net Zero report, which highlights the capacity and policy barriers that the UK needs to overcome to reach its legally binding net-zero target for 2050.

The report notes of a severe capacity gap in carbon capture and storage, nuclear, wind and hydrogen energy generation – technologies which have been outlined as essential by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) in reaching the net-zero target that it recommended to Government last year.

According to the report, the technologies will be required to assist or balance the four-fold increase in low-carbon energy generation required by 2050. The report states that the 155TWh of clean energy in 2017 will need to reach 645TWh by 2050. While this can be accelerated by an additional 75GW in offshore wind capacity, the reports warn that policy plans to limit nuclear capacity in the mid-2030s will hinder the net-zero target.

Chris Ball, managing director for nuclear and power at Atkins, said: “The green future we aspire to is possible. However, it requires a sea change in how we approach our energy system and the scale of investment required. Government has set the target and working in collaboration with industry and academia we can meet the ambition. But it requires an unprecedented level of commitment, investment and co-ordination to drive forward a programme of works.

“The concern for the UK is that years of only short-term political ambitions have blocked some urgent investments and actions needed to drive forward Net Zero solutions. As we look to 2020, and the UK’s new government takes shape, we need tangible investment in testing engineering solutions to our most pressing challenges.”

The report also called for a Government net-zero “champion” or department to be set up to take central ownership of the net-zero target and its delivery.

The report notes that investment into engineering solutions are need across all areas of low-carbon energy production, especially for carbon capture and storage, which is needed to capture, transport and store up to 176 metric tons of carbon dioxide by 2050. Worryingly, the report states that the UK’s current capacity for CCS is “negligible” and needs urgent attention.

Energy mix

The UK will be required to build 9-12GW of energy generation capacity annually to reach the net-zero target, according to the report, which is higher than any output recorded in the UK in the previous 50 years.

According to the report, the 2050 energy mix is predicted to be made up of: 58% intermittent renewables, 22% Combined Cycle Gas Turbine (CCGT) & CCS, 11% nuclear, 6% bioenergy with CCS, and 3% ‘other’.

Hydrogen may serve as a valuable energy source and store, the report adds. It states that up to 30% of the UK’s energy will need to be delivered through hydrogen, with 80% of that share having to be produced by methane reformation (MR) which depends on CCS.

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.

The Offshore Wind Industry Council (OWIC) has launched the Offshore Wind Growth Partnership (OWGP) to support more than 650 businesses boost the value and growth of the offshore sector.

The OWGP acts as part of the recent Sector Deal, penned between industry and the Government, which will see at least 30GW of offshore wind installed in the UK by 2030 – generating a third of the UK’s electricity as result and increasing UK business contributions to the nation’s offshore content from 48% to 60%.

Matt Mace



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