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£92m available for next-gen green technologies

The UK government has launched three “innovation challenges” in the green energy sector, with a £92m pot of money available for the development of technologies to help decarbonise the energy sector.

The UK government has committed to reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Last year, it laid out the basics of its 10-point plan for decarbonisation, which put great emphasis on weaning the UK off carbon-intensive energy sources through an expansion of offshore wind and nuclear for electricity generation and hydrogen for heating.

This is an ambitious programme which will require the development and rollout of new technologies to support decarbonisation of the energy sector, such as small advanced nuclear reactors and batteries for energy storage.

The government has announced three innovation challenges as a small part of its £1bn 'Net Zero Innovation' portfolio. The innovation challenges span the areas of energy storage, floating offshore wind and biomass production and aims to stimulate the development of technologies which reduce carbon emissions and support high-skilled jobs.

“The UK’s energy innovators have been vital to us becoming a world leader in clean green technology, helping us to go further and faster as we tackle climate change,” said energy minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan. “This funding will allow us to develop new ways of unlocking the potential for green energy as we continue making big strides towards our goal of eradicating our contribution to climate change by 2050.”

The majority of this funding (£68m) will go towards the development of energy storage technologies to support an energy ecosystem which partially derives energy from intermittent sources such as the wind and sunlight. Energy storage systems store energy generated by wind turbines and solar panels – collected during periods in which energy generation exceeds demand – until it is required by consumers. According to a statement, the government hopes for a first-of-its-kind storage system which can store energy in a useful form for months and years.

£20m will go towards engineering work to unlock the full potential of floating offshore wind technology to be deployed in the windiest waters around the British coastline, where it is too deep for them to be embedded in the seafloor. The government hopes to power every home in the country by wind by 2030.

While the UK is one of the best locations in the world for offshore wind potential, most development in the field so far has leaned on expertise developed in continental Europe. This funding could go towards components essential for harnessing this natural resource to its fullest, such as dynamic high-voltage cable systems or moorings for challenging seabed conditions and foundations.

The remaining £4m will fund research dedicated to increasing production of sustainably sourced biomass within the UK; it is hoped that this will create jobs in rural areas and support regional growth. Biomass can be burned as fuel for energy or used as a substitute for fossil fuels in other parts of the economy. Projects could include engineering of low-cost, low-maintenance crops grown for the purpose of green energy production, and efforts to improve yields and achieve cost reductions.

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