People on a beach overshadowed by an offshore wind farm

‘Very high levels of offshore wind possible’ for UK, report says

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A new report has found the future UK electricity system could handle up to 150GW of offshore wind, provided essential technical integration and market reforms to the UK energy system are addressed.

The analysis by Energy Systems Catapult underlines the important role for offshore wind - currently about 10GW capacity - as the workhorse of the power system in the coming decades.

Following the 'Offshore Wind Sector Deal' between the UK Government and industry and the subsequent adoption of the 40GW deployment target for offshore wind by 2030, the Offshore Wind Industry Council (OWIC) established a task force to ‘Solve the Integration Challenge’.

Energy Systems Catapult was commissioned by OWIC to consider the impact of very high levels of offshore wind on the energy system, and how these impacts could be mitigated, and also to identify opportunities to strengthen offshore wind’s role in delivering innovative solutions to system integration.

The report - 'Solving the offshore wind integration challenge' - draws on the Catapult’s whole system modelling capabilities to analyse a large number of possible future energy system configurations.

The analysis found:

  • At least 50-70GW of offshore wind was deployed in almost all scenarios to 2050, underlining its important future role in the UK energy system.
  • Credible systems are possible at significantly higher levels, with up to 150GW systems modelled.
  • Hydrogen plays an important role in decarbonising certain sectors, particularly industry and some transport and heating.
  • Future systems with a diverse generation mix, including clean thermal and nuclear power, have advantages over a system dominated by a single technology.
  • Reform of electricity markets is essential to unlock the potential of offshore wind, and ensure a more flexible demand side is established to match higher penetrations of wind.

Guy Newey, director of strategy and performance at Energy Systems Catapult, said: “Achieving net-zero UK carbon emissions by mid-century will likely involve integrating very high levels of renewables into the wider energy system – particularly offshore wind generation. This integration presents a considerable and multi-faceted challenge, but our analysis shows it is achievable if the right reforms, both technical and market, are put in place.

“This gives the UK an opportunity not only to consolidate its world-leading position in the deployment of offshore wind, but to use this position to accelerate deployment and integration of complementary technologies, such as hydrogen and other storage and flexibility solutions, which are essential to the energy system.

“Policymakers need to think carefully about how to unlock a diverse generation mix. Significant back-up plant, in the form of clean thermal generation, is required at high levels of offshore wind penetration to cover rare, protracted winter periods of low wind.

“Extensive storage and flexibility is also required, with electric, thermo-mechanical, thermal and gaseous storage all being deployed alongside interconnectors. Demand side management is important from domestic and district level thermal storage, as well as hydrogen production and storage.”

Danielle Lane, co-chair of OWIC and UK country manager for Vattenfall (the Swedish multinational power company), said: “This report strengthens the case for maximising the deployment of offshore wind in the decades ahead to reach net-zero emissions as swiftly as possible.

“This technology is set to become the backbone of our future energy system, not only generating vast quantities of clean electricity, but also playing a leading role in the production of renewable hydrogen which will build greater flexibility into the system. As this report makes clear, building the right policy framework to accelerate this transition is vital to ensure we make the most of these innovative technologies”.

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