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Renewable hydrogen best option to circumvent future energy supply shortages, ENA finds

Use of hydrogen would mean less wind needs to be built to meet demand in the winter months. Image: ENA

Use of hydrogen would mean less wind needs to be built to meet demand in the winter months. Image: ENA

Excess solar and wind could generate between 60-80GW of renewable hydrogen, helping Britain to avoid future energy supply crunches.

This is the chief finding of new research from the Energy Networks Association (ENA), which analysed Britain’s electricity generation and consumption trends. It examined the seasonal storage required for an energy system that can meet the stretching demands of the coldest winter days but remain utilised for the rest of the year, identifying hydrogen as a key element of this.

Spare wind and solar electricity generated in the spring and summer months could generate between 60-80GW of renewable hydrogen. This would reduce the need for the total electricity generating capacity of wind farms from 500GW-600GW by 2050 to 140GW-190GW, a reduction of up to 75%. This is because it will ensure electricity generated by Britain's wind farms is used as efficiently as possible by avoiding surplus electricity going to waste.

With wind generation of 140GW-190GW, 115TWh to 140TWh of green hydrogen would be stored, which could be used in the autumn and winter months when energy demand is highest, creating a clean energy buffer that avoids having to manage limited energy supplies on the international markets.

Particular focus has been placed on this in recent weeks, following the global gas shortage which has seen prices soar and several UK energy suppliers go bust.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) itself has stressed the need to reduce the UK's exposure to volatile global gas prices, while the Prime Minister has set a new 2035 target for fully decarbonising the electricity system.

National Grid ESO's Winter Outlook 2021 also shows that this winter period is expected to have several periods of tight margins, with this potentially causing significant price spikes in the Balancing Mechanism.

The ENA’s research found that the UK has enough capacity to store the hydrogen in a combination of salt caverns and disused oil and gas fields in the North Sea, as well as other locations, to meet demand.

The potential storage volume from Britain’s salt fields ranges from >1TWh to 30TWh, and for disused oil and gas fields, the potential storage volume for individual sites ranges from ~1TWh up to 330TWh.

Chris Train OBE, ENA green gas champion, said: “This research shows how green hydrogen can provide a clean energy bumper that can protect us from fluctuations on the international energy markets, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year - whatever the weather, come rain or sunshine."

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