Research published by engineering company AtkinsRéalis has forecast negative consequences if the UK’s annual energy build rate does not increase.
In 2019, AtkinsRéalis predicted a necessary build rate of 10.5GW per year to achieve the UK government’s goal of net zero electricity by 2050.
Since that point, however, the government updated its net zero power goalpost, moving it to 2035, so AtkinsRéalis updated its study in accordance.
The 2022 version of the research, now named Countdown to 2035, calculated the UK needed to build 14GW per year to reach net zero power by 2035, which has now jumped to 15.5GW per year in its January 2024 publication.
In contrast, the highest ever recorded build rate in the UK was 6.5GW in 2017, a number which has since fallen quite significantly, with 2022 seeing only 4.5GW connected to the national electricity grid.
AtkinsRéalis predicts that if the UK increases the build rate by 10% each year, it will need to be connecting 40GW per year by 2035.
However, if the UK achieves a 15% increase in build rate year-on-year, the peak build rate would be 25GW per year by 2035, making it a substantially more manageable process going forward.
The study suggests an “urgent” move away from “using models to create scenarios that are ‘theoretically feasible’ and focus on delivery plans that are ‘realistically achievable’”.
AtkinsRéalis references the Contracts for Difference (CfD) scheme as a good example of active change, as offshore wind projects increased by two thirds after the government scheme increased its financial support capacity.
Sarah Long, market director for net zero energy at AtkinsRéalis, said: “From reforming the planning system and strengthening energy networks to bolstering the UK’s supply chain, a more gradual increase in new energy capacity is the most likely path to meeting net zero energy goals over the next decade. However, the scale of the challenge becomes greater each year: we must urgently shift from scenarios into delivery.”
Tempering warning signs
AtkinsRéalis are not the first group to blare sirens in the name of the UK’s renewable energy growth. In June 2023, the Climate Change Committee’s (CCC) report criticised the government’s lack of delivery on targets.
Its annual report started by praising the government’s “solid” net zero strategy and emissions targets, but ultimately said that “greater emphasis and focus must be placed on delivery. This is needed for the UK’s climate ambitions to be credible”.
The Association for Renewable Energy and Clean Technology (REA) received the CCC’s report with open arms, agreeing that “transparency and ambitious targets are no substitute for real delivery”.
Somewhat of a recent success story for the UK government’s net zero strategy has been the CfD, as previously identified by AtkinsRéalis.
This is a scheme set up to incentivise renewable energy developers by subsidising costs on new projects sold at annual government auctions.
Auction Round 4 (AR4) was a flagship success for the scheme, securing almost 11GW of renewable generation in 2022, with 7GW of offshore wind taking the majority of winnings.
After a blip in Auction Round 5 (AR5), from which only 3.7GW was secured, the government increased the administrative strike price for offshore wind by 66% in November 2023.
The increase aims to re-incentivise developers to bid at the next auction, as Auction Round 6 (AR6) will see offshore wind projects receiving £73/MWh, up from £44/MWh in the previous auction round.
However, the future of CfD remains uncertain, with the government seeking to make amendments to the policy surrounding floating offshore wind projects for the seventh auction.
It seems from the perspective of AtkinsRéalis and the CCC that the UK cannot afford to draw back on any projects, so an expansion to floating offshore wind projects could help facilitate the necessary growth.