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A resilient net zero electricity system achievable by 2035 but increased investment required, Regen report finds

The report looked at a day with low renewables output and high demand. Image: Getty

The report looked at a day with low renewables output and high demand. Image: Getty

The technical solutions needed to operate a net zero electricity system by 2035 are available or attainable, Regen has found, though a step-change in the level of investment is still needed.

The trade body has produced a new report for National Grid ESO into a ‘day in the life’ of a fully decarbonized electricity system by 2035, which the ESO is aiming for.

It looks specifically at how a net zero power system could function on a cold, calm and cloudy winter day in January 2035, presenting an hour-by-hour analysis and detailing the energy system challenges that must be addressed to ensure system resilience and maintain security of supply.

The report shows a "smarter, better integrated energy system" based on renewables that avoids the use of unabated fossil-fueled generation by drawing on the full range of flexibility solutions to meet the increased demand for electricity from electric vehicles (EV) and low carbon heating systems- with the report suggesting 14% of electricity consumption in 2035 will be from domestic EV charging and 10% from domestic electric heating.

By 2035, consumption of electricity in Great Britain could almost double to between 450 and 500TWh, the report found, with this requiring a substantial increase in generation capacity as well as investment in the electricity transmission and distribution networks.

In the scenario presented, there is 55-65GW of offshore wind capacity, 25-35GW onshore wind, 40-50GW of solar, 6-10GW of other renewables, 10-15GW of low carbon dispatchable, 8-10GW of nuclear, 8-12GW of carbon capture and storage (CCS) and 15-25GW of fossil fuel backup.

On the day looked at in the report, there is low renewable output and high demand, with supply drawing heavily on carbon capture and imports alongside energy storage and demand-side flexibility. As such, the day sees 220GWh of nuclear, 240GWh of CCS, 230GWh of offshore wind, 80GWh of onshore wind, 40GWh of solar, 140GWh of other renewables, 190GWh of low carbon dispatchable and 400GWh of interconnector imports.

Energy storage, and in particular long-duration energy storage, will be critical to making the best use of low-cost energy, balance demand and supply and operate the system, Regen said. In the Day in the Life scenario, over 20GW of battery storage is available, with an average storage duration of at least three hours, which is charged overnight and discharged at peak times during the winter day. This includes liquid air and gravity-based storage alongside new pumped hydro.

New pumped hydro is currently being developed by ILI Group, with a 1.5GW asset to be located at Loch Awe in Scotland, while Highview Power and Carlton Power are developing liquid air storage and companies such as Gravitricity are developing gravity-based energy storage.

A further 20-30GW of demand-side flexibility is available in the Day in the Life scenario. Smart electric car chargers, smart heat pumps with thermal storage alongside data centres and other energy users will play a major role through the Day in the Life scenario, flexing their demand in response to price and/or system signals.

In total, 80-100GW of flexibility capacity is available in the scenario, including interconnectors, low carbon dispatchable and CCS.

The system will also need a significant capacity of low carbon dispatchable generation, with Regen suggesting that this could potentially be fossil gas or bioenergy generation with carbon capture and storage or low carbon hydrogen.

Other key features of a high renewables, net zero electricity system are identified as smart technologies and agile, efficient markets to unlock flexibility from across the energy system, as well as integration, interconnection and diversity of supply.

The report also identified the development of new tools and techniques to ensure system operability as key, alongside collaboration and coordination between system operators, network operators and a wide range of market actors to ensure the energy system works effectively and fairly.

Overall, the report concludes that the technical solutions needed to operate a fully decarbonised electricity system, including energy storage and smart technologies that enable more consumer participation, are available or attainable with continued innovation.

Bringing these solutions together will, however, require a step-change in the level of investment as well as the mobilisation of all parts of the energy industry and the participation of businesses and energy consumers.

Becky Hart, strategy manager, National Grid ESO, said: “The Day in the Life provides insight into how the system could be operated on a cold, dark, still day in January 2035.

"It shows that a fully decarbonised electricity system is achievable and resilient, but requires starting the energy transition now."

The full, interactive report can be found here.

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