The Renewables chapter combines leading research and modelling on renewable heat and electricity to create one integrated energy model to meet the needs of the zerocarbonbritain2030 scenario. As our basis, we use the UK Energy Research Council’s (UKERC, 2009) £18 million research into electricity scenarios and integrate this with the work of NERA Economic Consulting and AEA (2009) for DECC on heat, and work from the National Grid (2009) on biogas, as well as further specialised research from an array of academic sources. With this, we create a vision of how the energy system could look like in 2030.
The Renewables chapter also brings together data from our other chapters. Data on heat demand comes from our chapter on The Built Environment; data on increased electrical requirements come from our Transport chapter; and data on the available biomass from the Land Use and Agriculture chapter. As the integration between these sectors increased so did the potential number of solutions. For the purpose of this report we are showing just one of these routes.
The power of renewables
Since zerocarbonbritain: an alternative energy strategy (zerocarbonbritain, 2007) was published, there has been a lot more research demonstrating the potential of renewables. Jacobson and Delucchi (2009) demonstrate that 100% of the world’s energy needs can be met from renewables by 2030, and the European Energy Agency (EEA, 2009) has found that the economically competitive potential of wind generation in Europe is seven times that of projected electrical demand in 2030. Renewables and sustainable biomass can power Britain without the need for fossil fuels and nuclear power.
A large proportion of delivered energy being from wind, especially offshore wind. Offshore wind is a tremendous resource for the UK. In zerocarbonbritain2030, this provides 615TWh per year from 195GW of generation capacity. There are several questions this raises, for example over embodied energy, resource use, balancing the grid, skills, and economics.
Developing a UK offshore wind industry
The energy required to make something is referred to as its embodied energy. To calculate the energy return on energy invested (EROEI) of a renewable energy source the embodied energy can be compared to the energy it generates through its lifetime. The EROEI for wind is higher than other renewables. A 5MW turbine can give a return of approximately 28:1 (see Lenzen & Munksgaard, 2002) which can be compared to photovoltaics (PV), where some of the highest calculated ratios, based on US weather, are about 10:1 (U.S. Department of Energy [US DoE], 2004). Many of the measures outlined in other chapters of this report, such as the rapid move towards electric transport, will further improve the EROEI of wind turbines.
The core resource requirements for installing 195GW of offshore wind are steel and concrete. The embodied energy of these materials would be 115TWh. There will also be a varying degree of processing and maintenance, depending on the details of the turbines installed and where they are installed, plus operations and maintenance. There have been concerns raised about offshore wind’s steel requirements (Mackay, 2009). The UK currently uses 13.5 million tonnes of steel per annum (The Manufacturers’ Organisation [EEF], 2009), therefore in 2013 offshore wind would be using 0.6% of current annual UK steel and in its peak year it would require 10.4% of current demand. This is an achievable quantity and will clearly not be a barrier, especially with construction and automation moving away from steel.
The UK steel market specialises in high-quality steel, including steel designed for the manufacture of wind turbines. However, the largest UK steel producer, Corus, was forced to indefinitely mothball a number of UK production sites from January 2010 due to broken contracts, resulting in the loss of about 1,700 UK jobs (Corus, 2009). The development of wind power in the UK has the potential to ease the decline of the UK steel industry in the medium-term and, over the long-term, it has the potential to contribute to its growth as we export our technology.
Responding to variability
One of the challenges of a renewables and biomass scenario is the balancing of variable supply with variable demand. This can be addressed on both the supply and the demand side. On the demand side, there are lots of services that do not need to run at an exact time but can rather be run within a range of times. This flexibility can be used to “re-time loads” on the grid, making management easier. While there is flexibility during the day, the big area of potential is moving demand overnight. Electric cars, for example, may charge at night. This also minimises the need for additional grid capacity, therefore decreasing the cost of the infrastructure and final electricity pricing. On the supply side, some biogas is used as additional dispatchable generation to back up the grid.
The zerocarbonbritain2030 scenario has been successfully tested with the “Future Energy Scenario Assessment” (FESA) energy modelling software. This combines weather and demand data to test if there is enough dispatchable generation to manage the variable base supply of renewable electricity with the variable demand.
Even after a decrease of energy demand of over 55% on current (2008) levels, electricity demand will roughly double because of the partial electrification of the transport and heat sectors. However, required increases to the electricity infrastructure can be minimised through balancing measures such as demand side management. The development of offshore wind resources and an EU grid may also be utilised to ease electricity distribution in the UK from North to South.
The policy and economics of renewables
Using data on the capital, operations and management costs of power generation technologies (European Commission, 2008) we find that onshore wind has similar capital costs to coal but without the fuel requirements. The capital cost of coal with CCS is similar to the cost of offshore wind, but has substantial running costs that offshore wind does not possess, and this is before adding in any carbon cost. The cost per kWh for customers will be dependent on a range of factors including the policy mechanisms in place, the ownership of the generation, the capacity factors of the generation and future fuel costs.
There are various different mechanisms in place to reward people for producing renewable electricity which include: Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs), Levy Exemption Certificates (LECs), the Climate Change Levy, feed-in tariffs (FITs), as well as Use of System electricity grid charges, the Transmission Use of System (TNUoS), Distribution Use of System (DNUoS) and Balancing Services Use of System (BSUoS) charges. The major policies on the electricity side are the Renewable Obligation Certificates and feed-in tariffs. Levy Exemption Certificates (LECs) are a way of integrating these policies with the Climate Change Levy.
A sustainable, secure, efficient Britain can be powered without relying on fossil fuels or nuclear power.
Corus (2009) “Broken contract leads to mothball of Teesside plant”, press release 04 December 2009. Available at: http://www.corusgroup.com/en/news/news/2009_tcp_mothball [Live: March 2010].
European Commission (EC) (2008) “Energy Sources, Production Costs and Performance of Technologies for Power Generation, Heating and Transport”, Commission Staff Working Document accompanying the Communication From the Commission To the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, Commission of the European Communities. Available at: http://ec.europa.eu/energy/strategies/2008/doc/2008_11_ser2/strategic_energy_review_wd_cost_performance.pdf [Live: March 2010].
European Environment Agency (EEA) (2009) Europe’s onshore and offshore wind energy potential: An assessment of environmental and economic constraints, Technical report 6/2009. Luxembourg: EC.
Jacobson, M.Z. & M.A. Delucchi (2009) “A Path to Sustainable Energy by 2030”, Scientific American, November 2009.
Lenzen, M. & J. Munksgaard (2002) “Energy and CO2 life-cycle analyses of wind turbines—review and applications”, Renewable Energy, 26(3), pp. 339-362.
Mackay, D. (2009) Sustainable Energy – without the hot air, Cambridge: UIT Cambridge Ltd.
Manufactuers’ Organisation (EEF) (2009) “UK Steel: Key Statistics 2009, EEF. Available at: http://www.eef.org.uk/NR/rdonlyres/B1210239-A3C3-472D-B1E5-A48DBFBCF306/15206/UKSteelKeyStatistics2009.pdf [Live: March 2010].
NERA Economic Consulting & AEA (2009) “The UK Supply Curve for Renewable Heat”, Study for the Department of Energy and Climate Change, July 2009, URN 09D/689. Available at: http://www.nera.com/image/PUB_Renewable_Heat_July2009.pdf [Live: March 2010].
UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) (2009) Making the transition to a secure low-carbon energy system, synthesis report, London: UKERC.
U.S. Department of Energy (US DoE) (2004) “What is the energy payback for PV?”, PV FAQs, The National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Available at: http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy04osti/35489.pdf [Live: March 2010].
Zero Carbon Britain (2007) zerocarbonbritain: an alternative energy strategy, Machynlleth: Centre for Alternative Technology.