It’s only a matter of scaling up the components to create a green energy supply. We explain how each renewable energy, from wind to geothermal, fits into the mix and when we may reach that 100% milestone.
Renewables accounted for a record 48% in the UK’s first quarter of 2023. This is impressive when you consider they only accounted for 7% 13 years ago. However, progress must be accelerated to meet the government goal of a decarbonised system by 2035. The good news is, experts believe it’s possible. However, there are a few caveats.
The , the UK’s Climate Watchdog, says that it will mean construction at unprecedented rates combined with planning reforms, incentives, and a comprehensive long term strategy from the Government.
Matthew Clayton, managing Director of Thrive Renewables which funds, owns, and operates renewable energy project, says “We’re going in the right direction” but that climate change will not go away.
Keeping that in mind, let’s take a look at a few key renewables and see where they are now, and where they are headed.
The winds of change blew fiercely in 2023. In the first few weeks of this year, the UK’s 11,500 wind turbines overtook gas-fueled power stations as our largest source for electricity. Dogger Bank, which is located off the coasts of Yorkshire, and will be the largest offshore wind farm in the world when it’s finished in 2026, started generating electricity last year. Onshore, the government has relaxed planning rules to allow for the development of wind farms. However, Clayton claims that these changes are only a “micro-adjustment” and should go further.
Increasing the number of turbines is not necessary to boost onshore wind. It’s possible to increase the amount of electricity produced without increasing the number of turbines by replacing older models with more efficient ones. Moreover putting them at better sites can increase power generation as well.
“It is not about putting up more turbines, but about using the best sites for wind.”
The explosive growth of rooftop arrays for homes and small businesses is the big success story this year. 2023 will set a record for solar installations.
The UK has installed around 15GW of solar power, which is still far from the 70GW target set by the government for 2035. Solar farms will be restricted on agricultural land in the future, so the ‘untapped’ potential of roofs of public and commercial buildings – such as schools, car parks and factories – may help to fill the gap.
The UK has been slow in catching on to the unlimited supply under our feet of clean energy .
Researchers from Durham Energy Institute, in a study commissioned to the UK government, found that a network 360 geothermal power stations could provide electricity and heat to large parts of the UK by 2050, with the proper government backing. In addition, they found that some of the poorest towns in the country are located on land most suitable for geothermal development. This could be a boon to the government’s ‘levelling-up’ agenda.
The technology works by pumping heat water from miles beneath the Earth’s surface, and using it to power steam turbines that produce electricity. Geothermal plants, unlike wind and solar, can provide power 24/7. They can balance out peaks and troughs in supply and demand. Surplus heat can also be channeled to district networks for heating homes and businesses.
United Downs, the UK’s first deep geothermal generator in Cornwall, will be online next year. It should produce 3MW of electricity, enough to power 7,000 households, as well as 12MW heat. A former fracking project in North Yorkshire will be converted into a deep-geothermal project.
Dr Ryan Law is the founder and managing director at Geothermal Engineering. The company behind United Downs. He has discovered another unexpected boon: the ability of extracting lithium, which is crucial for manufacturing batteries, from water that passes through the plant.
Law says that we are at the beginning of a major shift on how we source critical minerals in Europe and the US. “Feeding this potentially new world zero carbon mining will be a feature of more and more geothermal projects .”
Clayton predicts that as gas plants retire, hydro will have its day.
Around 1,560 hydropower projects are located in the UK, but they only meet less than 2% our electricity demand. Clayton and others believe that this could change as the energy shift gains momentum.
Nuclear, biomass and the rest
According to the CCC’s projection, nuclear power will play a significant part in the future energy mix. It could generate as much as 12,5% of the total. The CCC says that another 10.5% will come from power stations powered by hydrogen or gas or biomass, combined with carbon storage and capture technology. The CCC predicts that traditional gas plants will continue to play a small role in the future, generating around 2% of electricity on an intermittent basis, with a minimal impact on emissions.
Batteries are a vital component of the clean energy revolution in the UK because of their variable nature (as a facilitator rather than a generator). Currently, the UK has around 2.1GW installed capacity. Analysts predict that this will grow exponentially to around 24GW at the end of the decade.
In 2023, the UK’s largest energy storage facility was built near Luton. But that will be dwarfed in the future by what will be the worlds biggest – slated to be developed at the Trafford low carbon energy park near Manchester. It has a 1GW capacity.
By 2035, ‘flexible energy storage solutions’ such as batteries will contribute to a 10% reduction in electricity demand.
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