UK’s net zero goal is ambitious but possible – Wärtsilä

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UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson has said all of the UK’s electricity is going to come from clean energy sources by 2035.

Johnson’s announcement of the country’s shift towards renewable energy is part of government efforts to cut carbon emissions by 78% by 2035.

However, significant advances in renewable energy, together with rapid increases in flexibility and thermal balancing will be needed to meet this target, according to a new report from Wärtsilä.

The report, Front-loading Net Zero, maps a path to meeting the UK’s net zero goal and demonstrates that net zero energy systems are achievable based on technologies already available at scale and do not need to cost significantly more.

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Håkan Agnevall, CEO and President of Wärtsilä, said: “We have all of the technologies that we need to rapidly shift to net zero energy. The benefits of renewable-led systems are cumulative and self-reinforcing – the more we have, the greater the benefits – so it is vital that leaders and power producers come together now to front-load net zero this decade.”

The report, based on Wärtsilä’s power system modelling, indicates the following are needed to meet the 2035 emissions target:

  • The UK needs to install 112GW of wind power by 2030, over double the 40GW currently planned
  • Rapid increases are needed in flexible capacity, such as battery energy storage and thermal balancing power plants, to balance the variability of such high levels of renewable power
  • More than 6GW of new wind energy must be installed every year.
  • The UK will also need 52GW of flexibility solutions, including 18GW of battery energy storage and 34GW of thermal balancing power plants.

Tony Meski, Senior Market Development Analyst at Wärtsilä Energy and co-author of the report, said: “Offshore wind can become the dominant energy source in the UK, but it is essential to act quickly to increase the amount of wind power in the system.

“However, only when this is coupled with a combination of flexibility solutions, including battery energy storage and thermal balancing power plants, can the UK achieve 100% renewable energy in the fastest possible time.”

The report recommends a combination of flexibility assets, including both energy storage through batteries and thermal balancing power plants, as the most cost-effective bridge to 100% renewable energy.

Meski continued: “In planning the cost optimal system for the UK, it is crucial to understand that battery energy storage and thermal balancing power plants are the best partners to work together to improve the reliability and resilience of clean energy. Both solutions are needed as a bridge to enable the UK to run on 100% renewable energy.”

The UK modelling is based on Wärtsilä’s Atlas of 100% Renewable Energy, which models a ‘greenfield’ 100% renewable energy system across the British Isles, based on the cost optimal energy mix if the system was built from scratch.

In this scenario, the UK would have 2% of generated electricity stored by batteries which are charged by electricity produced from wind and solar PV generation.

This optimal system also includes carbon neutral sustainable fuels, such as synthetic methane, which can be produced by converting renewable energy into synthetic gases. In this optimal system, carbon neutral synthetic fuels would provide 8% of the annual power needed.

The report is available for download.