The study, carried out by analysts at Demand Energy Equality, used 11 years of real weather data to model renewable output and how it can match up to expected demand.

It found that renewables could meet the vast majority of the country’s energy needs if the UK Government chooses to support a major expansion of wind and solar farms and promotes a variety of new technologies such as ‘smart fridges’, electricity storage, energy efficiency, tidal power and electric cars.

The study considered how best to go about meeting Britain’s two main energy goals – the electrification of other energy systems such as heating and transport, and the decarbonisation of the electricity supply.

“Both scenarios attempted alone would contain their own difficulties,” reads the report. “But when combined the challenges inherent in each, multiply those of the other.”

Electrification increases the size of demand peaks on the grid, for example through electric cars all being charged at night, or everyone turning on their heating on a winter morning, while decarbonisation (via renewables) decreases the predictability of supply intended to meet those now increased peaks.

How to get there

The first step to meeting these targets is simply to increase the amount of renewables generation. The report calls for a 47% increase on the amount of onshore wind capacity already installed or consented and a 270% increase in offshore wind capacity.

“This is then an ambitious, but necessary, target,” said the report. “The UK has the largest wind resource in Europe and urgent focus needs to be put on enabling its integration as the largest renewable contributor into a future power supply system; in particular onto the very rapid scaling up of offshore wind capacity.

“This is within our reach. Without it meeting carbon targets within reasonable timescales becomes very likely impossible.”

Solar capacity would also have to increase by 1.5 GW a year, a reasonable pace considering it grew by 1.2GW in 2014.

Balancing act

As renewable generation increases, so must the implementation of technologies that can balance supply and demand on the grid. This includes pumped hydro-storage, utility-scale batteries, domestic batteries and interconnectors.

The report also calls for demand-side management in homes, in much the same way that is already seen in commercial energy supply. Smart meters telling customers when cheaper energy is available would theoretically encourage them to shift their demand to off-peak hours reducing demand spikes.

Smart meter roll-out is already government policy by 2020. The report also calls for the development of smart-appliances – for example, fridges that turn their power down when there are demand spikes.

Demand reduction

Energy efficiency is also crucial to the transition, especially in the domestic sector, where heating uses vast amounts of energy. Domestic demand for energy must fall by 47.5% if it is to be met by renewable sources by 2030.

“Huge investment in energy saving programmes (such as adequate insulation in both new and old builds), improvement in technologies’ operating efficiencies and – crucially – behaviour change will all be required to make any low-carbon power system function acceptably,” said the report.

Finally, the report projects that Britain will feature 12.6 million electric vehicles on the road in 2030, compared to approximately 40,000 today.

The study doesn’t give specific costs of the renewable transition, but cities a Climate Change Committee estimate that up to £227bn of investment will be required.

No new nuclear

Campaigners have used the reports’ findings to criticise the Government’s continued support of the Hinkley nuclear power plant. Over the weekend, George Osborne gave a £2bn Government guarantee to the Hinkley project, designed to encourage investment from the private sector.

However, campaigners said the plant represents ‘one of the worst deals ever’ for the consumer and that Britain simply doesn’t need the vast power plant to meet decarbonisation targets.  

The study was published on the same day as a separate Greenpeace report which claimed that the planet could be on track to source two thirds of its electricity from renewable energy by 2030.

Brad Allen

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