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'Much more' wind capacity needed as RenewableUK outlines 2050 net zero vision

Image: Getty.

Image: Getty.

The UK will need "much more" wind capacity to meet net zero, alongside a number of wide ranging measures including support for floating wind, solar and flexibility.

This is according to RenewableUK, which released a new report exploring its vision of the changes the energy system will need to undergo to meet net zero by 2050.

As turbines get bigger, RenewableUK predicted that offshore wind could potentially ramp up to almost 70GW by 2040 and over 90GW by 2050.

"Deploying offshore wind at the scale and pace required to meet the UK’s increased ambition and our net zero target is not without its challenges," the report says.

To enable the increased amount of wind, there should be a strong partnership between industry and government, the report states, as well as faster and more regular timeframes for leasing and allocation rounds and a full repowering or life extension of all wind farms built from 2025.

It will also mean enabling technologies such as floating offshore wind, the report says. It recommends that the government brings in a series of actions and new governance structures to support deployment of both offshore and floating wind.

RenewableUK considered three main scenarios for onshore wind, with its high scenario modelling a growth to 26GW by 2030 and 36GW by 2050. However, reaching these goals will require a "set of supportive policies from the government", such as the Pot One Contracts for Difference (CfD) auction, and improved timescales for grid connection.

It recommended that routes to market and greater certainty to support investment in cheap decentralised renewables, such as onshore wind, should be maintained.

The report also praised the reinstatement of Pot One technologies in the CfD due to its benefit for solar, stating it would “undoubtedly bolster the development pipeline”. It also welcomed the strong PPA market, but warned the government will “need to go even further with enabling measures” to accelerate solar deployment in the medium to long term.

This would include measures such as public sector PPAs and support for solar and storage within the Home Upgrades Grant Scheme to finance domestic retrofits.

Distribution grid upgrades will also be essential, RenewableUK said, in order to allow continued growth of distributed solar generation throughout the 2020s. It will therefore be “crucial” for Ofgem and the distribution network operators (DNOs) to work collaboratively with the industry to create a “favourable policy environment”, as well as targeting grid upgrades strategically to enable the largest penetration of distributed generation assets possible.

The report also looked at the demand for clean power to 2050, which it said is expected to increase “significantly” in all forecasts. An extra 40TWh of annual demand could result from the electrification of vehicles, with analysis from Vivid Economics conducted for the Committee on Climate Change in 2018 suggesting that 10 million EVs could be on the roads by 2035.

The report makes a variety of recommendations to enable net zero, including encouraging greater flexibility through increasing interconnection, vehicle-to-grid technologies and industrial demand response to maximise variable renewable generation.

Flexibility is much-discussed throughout the report, with a separate recommendation of implementing and building on the Smart Systems and Flexibility Plan to accelerate the development of flexibility markets at both a national and local level, as well as ensuring the energy market regulation accelerates the transition to a smart, flexible and low carbon system.

It also suggested that "a fair, cost reflective approach to network charging and connection queue regime that delivers net zero at the least costs" should be created.

For storage in particular, it called for clarity on how changes currently being explored by the Energy Networks Association would work in practice by 2025. The changes would enable storage projects to progress up the connection queues to connect earlier, and mean that storage capacity providing a flexible alternative to network reinforcement would be able to speed the connection process for other projects as well.

“This is an incredibly exciting time for the energy sector," RenewableUK’s chief economist, Marina Valls, said.

"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."

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