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UK needs flexible electricity networks for cost-effective renewables, report suggests

Britain's power networks will need to operate more flexibly in the future in order to make intermittent renewable sources like wind and solar cost-effective, according to a new independent report.

The UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) reports comes as the government is under pressure to act on rising energy costs and meet its emissions targets.

Three of Britain’s “Big Six” energy suppliers have announced price rises over the last few months drawing criticism from customers.

Britain has a legally binding target to cut emissions of harmful greenhouse gases by 80 per cent from 1990 levels by 2050, and hopes to achieve this partly by increasing its renewable generation and closing coal-fired power plants.

“Without investing in greater flexibility you could end up with a system where (renewable) integration costs are almost as much as generation costs,” Robert Gross, one of the report’s authors and UKERC Co-Director, said during a media briefing.

If the UK generated 50 per cent of its electricity from intermittent renewables, the costs associated with connecting them to power grid and providing back up power when they do not run, would range between 15 and 45 pounds ($19-56) per megawatt hour (MWh), the report said.

For the cheapest figure to be realized the country would need to develop a flexible electricity system, using tools such as more power links with other countries and battery storage to better manage supply and demand, it said.

A Finnish research team recently demonstrated an electricity grid system that could run on 100 per cent renewable energy production by moving energy around large areas of the world depending on climate conditions. 

The cost of renewable electricity generation has fallen rapidly over the past few years, with offshore wind costs below 100 pounds/MWh and expected to continue falling. 

As much as 20 per cent of Britain’s electricity can be generated by wind farms at present.

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