Low-cost renewable power set for rapid expansion

Renewable hydrogen has a key role to play in the UK’s successful transition from fossil fuels to renewables, alongside a huge expansion of wind energy and other clean power sources, according to a new report published from RenewableUK.

“Powering the Future: RenewableUK’s Vision of the Transition” sets out a wide-ranging vision of how the UK’s energy system is set to change between now and 2050, the Government’s target date to reach net zero emissions.

Despite the short-term impacts of Covid-19 on energy use, RenewableUK expects low-cost renewable power to grow rapidly in the next ten years to meet new demand from electric vehicles, low-carbon heating and renewable hydrogen. By 2050, RenewableUK predicts renewables could be providing over three quarters (76 per cent) of the UK’s power needs. The study highlights the huge potential for green hydrogen – hydrogen produced using renewable electricity – as a zero-carbon alternative to fossil fuels like gas or petroleum.

The UK’s mix of high renewable energy capacity and strong climate change policies mean that renewable hydrogen is likely to become cost competitive in the UK faster than in other parts of the world.Renewable hydrogen can be used instead of gas in factories – in heavy industries like steel making -where progress on decarbonisation has been slow to date, as well as heating boilers in homes. Green hydrogen from renewables can also be used to power a turbine in the same way as a combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT) plant currently works, and in hydrogen fuel cells for heavy good vehicles and shipping.

A net zero emissions energy system would see low cost wind energy capacity grow six-fold to over 120GW by 2050, attracting tens of billions in investment, alongside other renewable sources like solar and innovative floating wind and marine energy. In addition to these power sources, RenewableUK expects energy storage to grow exponentially as batteries and other forms of storage scale up to ensure our power supplies remain balanced at all times.

The document envisages significant changes in the way consumers use the energy system, with clean electricity rather than fossil fuels used to power transport and heating through electric vehicles, solar technology, heat pumps and other sources. As well as benefitting from cheap renewable power, consumers will have opportunities to reduce energy costs by, for example, selling power stored in batteries or EVs to the grid when it’s needed most and buying electricity when it’s cheaper. This flexibility will be a key characteristic of our electricity system, and of energy companies’ business models, in the transition to net zero.   
RenewableUK’s chief economist Marina Valls, the author of the report, said: “This is an incredibly exciting time for the energy sector. 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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