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expert reaction to PM’s statement on offshore wind

The Prime Minister is expected to announce a new nation offshore wind plan.

 

Prof Michael Grubb, Professor of International Energy and Climate Change, University College London (UCL), said:

“The PMs announcement, particularly the support announced for ports and factories, is an important step towards delivering his promise to almost double the UK’s offshore wind capacity to a remarkable 40GW.  This will help further decarbonise our electricity system, but also highlights the value of north-sea collaboration to maximise the economic and environmental benefits.”

 

Prof Rob Gross, Director of the UK Energy Research Centre, said:

“Expanding the role of offshore wind has been part of the government’s plans since the election. The speech suggests they have woken up to the need to take action to ensure that this brings UK jobs.

“Boris’s Saudi Arabia analogy is imperfect. Wind is not quite the same as oil but there is no doubt that green energy offers a wide range of opportunities to create wealth and jobs. It can be exported. This will be much easier if offshore wind feeds grids both sides of the North Sea so it is essential that we get Brexit right so that we can export the power as well as the turbines.”

 

Prof Mark Barrett, Professor of Energy and Environmental Systems Modelling, UCL Energy Institute, said:

“The announcements on green home grants and offshore wind investment are very encouraging and are critical components of a zero greenhouse gas emission energy system for the UK.  

“Zero emission energy can be provided by renewables and nuclear. Nuclear has environmental and other risks, and its direct costs are greater than wind, but it does not require so much storage. The capacities of renewable energy we will need are largely dependent on the levels of demands in builds, industry and transport and the efficiencies of the technologies with which we meet these demands. Wind and solar resources are larger than any foreseeable levels of demands, which might range 400-1000 TWh of electricity in 2050. However, renewables and demands vary hour by hour across the year, and to match the two we need energy storage and trading through interconnector cables connecting us to Europe. 

“The best combination of renewables, storage and interconnectors depends greatly on their relative costs; the cost of wind, solar and batteries have fallen by about 70% in the last ten years,  with more reductions projected. 

“Our modelling and analyses indicate that for a largely renewable electric system we might want 100-150 GW of offshore wind, 50-100 GW of solar PV, 20-40 TWh storage of different kinds, and 15-30 GW of interconnector.”

 

Caroline Holman, Energy Lead at the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), said:

“We welcome this announcement demonstrating a positive commitment to green recovery and to an industry where we can show global leadership.  Cost reduction in this sector is a global success story and investing further provides a genuine chance to ‘build back better’.

“The whole energy system needs to be considered. Wind output needs to be balanced, through a mix of commitments to other forms of generation, to storage, and/or other solutions.  Building a secure and reliable energy system fit for this future requires whole systems thinking and application of sound engineering principles.  We also note that there is also growing interest in alternative solutions (e.g. hydrogen production offshore) which may form part of our national energy transition.  These ideas also raise important questions about skills transfer and whether assets can be re-used.

“With ambitious targets set for creating green jobs, it is essential that the right level of investment is made in skills and training to ensure we can deliver the positive outcomes the Government is aiming for. It is of paramount importance that high-quality training and re-skilling is delivered across the industry and its supply chain.

“A strategic and co-ordinated ‘whole systems approach’ to offshore wind grids, inter-connectivity, re-skilling/skills transfer, technology mix and asset reutilisation; will be a key foundation of the Net Zero transition, and one that the IET is already engaged in.

“The electricity industry is a vital enabler of other sectors reaching their emissions reduction targets. The IET believes that a Whole System approach using systems engineering principles is essential if the green recovery and energy transition are to be realised and offshore wind has a large part to play in this process.”

 

Dr Ajay Gambhir, Senior Research Fellow at Grantham Institute- Climate Change and the Environment, Imperial College London, said:

“Just 6 years ago, offshore wind in Great Britain still cost as much as £150/MWh, making it one of the most expensive electricity generation technologies. Recent projects have been commissioned with an expected cost of less than £40/MWh. This remarkable fall in cost, with potentially more to come, makes it unsurprising that this once-unloved technology is now seen as a bedrock of future zero-carbon electricity generation here.”

 

Prof Tim Green, Co-Director, Energy Futures Lab, Imperial College London:

“It is good to see the UK government committing to a further large expansion of offshore wind and the displacement of gas-fired power stations. The UK has an unusually good opportunity to use this renewable resource, so good in fact that export electricity generated by wind farms is a real prospect. The UK is already a leader in building offshore windfarms. Enhancing our facilities to produce turbines and foundations, and construct wind farms from them, is very positive for jobs in the UK. We can also build expertise in building wind farms and running grids solely on renewables, expertise that other countries will need.”

 

Prof Keith Bell, Professor of Electrical Engineering at the University of Strathclyde and a co-Director of the UK Energy Research Centre, said:

40 GW of offshore capacity is a tremendous increase on present day capacity of around 10 GW. It would be expected to produce of the order of 140 TWh of electricity each year, equivalent to around 45% of today’s total electricity demand.

“In terms of renewable electricity production, this would be added to production from onshore wind, solar PV and generation using bioenergy. However, it is generally expected that the total demand for electricity will increase hugely between now and 2050 – perhaps doubling or even tripling – with substantial electrification of heat, such as through use of heat pumps, and transport, through use of electric vehicles. All of that demand in 2050 must be met with zero greenhouse gas emissions.

“One of the main challenges around the use of wind energy is its variability. There can be periods lasting many days in which the average output from wind is only around 5%, and then other periods in which the total power available from all low carbon sources is so high that it exceeds demand. Modelling at University of Strathclyde of the British electricity system integrated with the rest of Europe suggests that, at times of surplus production, the excess could be approaching as much as 15 GW in 2030. (This compares with a peak demand for electricity today of around 60 GW). However, if there is sufficient interconnector capacity, the surplus power could be exported. The 2030 modelling suggests there is sufficient diversity of demand and sources of power across Europe that, with a well integrated wholesale market, there will be little need for curtailment of low carbon electricity production. However, otherwise, the availability of very cheap, low carbon power might be exploited by a growing market for ‘green’ hydrogen produced via electrolysis.

“This highlights another of the challenges: how the power generated offshore can best be integrated into the rest of the energy system.

“The most obvious method would be via cables that are connected into the onshore electricity network. However, with present technology, the power that could be transmitted by each cable – in practice for sites very far from shore, each pair of cables – is limited. This means that multiple pairs would be required. Efficiencies could be gained by strategic development of the routes for those cables into the onshore system, sharing of those routes by multiple wind farms and, extending the network connections in the other direction, using those routes as part of new interconnections to other countries. However, present day regulatory arrangements in Britain act as a barrier to such strategic development.

“There is an alternative to the use of multiple cables: the energy produced offshore might be used to manufacture hydrogen that is transmitted to shore via pipes that, in general, don’t need such a wide corridor for the transfer of a given amount of energy within a given period of time. The downside of this, though, is that the electrolysers used to make the hydrogen are currently very expensive, and they would need to be placed offshore, adding to the cost. A further challenge is, that at the moment, there is no market for low carbon hydrogen.

“Hydrogen – produced in a low carbon way – is widely seen, e.g. by the Committee on Climate Change, as having much potential for use in transport such as for heavier vehicles and in shipping, and as a fuel for heating in industry or in buildings instead of using electricity. It also promises to offer extremely useful flexibility to the future energy system: it can provide a coupling between the electricity system and uses of hydrogen for transport and for heat; and it be stored, helping to balance the times when there is a surplus of low carbon electricity with times when there is a deficit. However, both electrolysers and the main alternative means of making hydrogen – reformation of natural gas with capture and storage of the resulting carbon dioxide emissions – are very expensive, and commercially viable appliances that can replace existing gas boilers and meet all safety standards are yet to be available.”

 

Prof Geoffrey Maitland FREng, Professor of Energy Engineering at Imperial College London, said:

“It is unrealistic I think that we will transform to direct electric heating, particularly on the 2030 timescale Johnson is talking about.  The two routes we will probably use for decarbonised heating in the UK are hydrogen replacing natural gas, produced by water electrolysis using wind powered electricity, and ground source heat pumps, also powered by ‘green’ electricity from wind or other renewable sources.

“There will also be additional in-home costs for heating decarbonisation that must be borne by either the government or the consumer.  For hydrogen heating, conversion of boilers would be needed to take 100% hydrogen, much as was done in the 1960s/70s in converting from town gas (from coal) to North Sea natural gas.  Current burners can cope with up to about 20% hydrogen enrichment of natural gas without adjustment.  For ground source heat pumps, current gas boilers would need to be replaced by heat pump units driving the recirculating water heating system.  In addition, the replacement of metal gas distribution pipelines by plastic pipes – which are impermeable to hydrogen and resistant to corrosion, and which has already started in many locations – will have to be rapidly expanded if this is to be in place for all households by 2030.”

 

Prof Bikash Pal, Professor of Power Systems at Imperial College London, said:

“I’m not sure about powering domestic heating with offshore wind by 2030, but to continue to heat home through gas is going to be neither cost sustainable nor carbon-neutral.  Eventually UK homes will be heated through electricity from offshore wind – but to be able to build that infrastructure through a COVID-ruined economy by 2030 – in just 9 years’ time – is a massive target.”

 

Prof Simon Hogg, Ørsted Professor in Renewable Energy and Head of the Department of Engineering at Durham University, said:

“The PM’s statements on supporting the rapid growth of offshore wind generation to 2030 and beyond, making it the principal source of domestic power, gives a welcome boost to a direction of travel set by recent UK governments who have kept faith with this still emergent new industry sector.

“A net zero carbon future is now within grasp, following the seismic changes in the power generation mix over the last decade, which has seen the virtual elimination of electricity generation from coal in the UK.  What is needed now is a greater emphasis on incentivising innovation and development of energy storage.  Smart energy systems that will take matching supply with demand to new levels, will go some way to integrating more variable wind power generation into the future energy system. However, significant investment in energy storage, particularly at large scale, is mandatory in order to make generation from offshore wind sufficiently dispatchable to suit future needs. One particularly exciting prospect for storing energy at large scale is to use electrolysis to convert zero-carbon electricity from wind generation into so called ‘green’ hydrogen.  Hydrogen can be used directly as a fuel source in all three of the main energy vectors i.e. electricity, heating and transport, thereby placing wind power firmly at the heart of our future net-zero energy system.”

 

Dr Jan Rosenow, University of Oxford and University of Sussex, said:

“The direct electrification of heating through heat pumps coupled with efficiency upgrades of our homes is the key strategy to decarbonise heating in the UK as forthcoming UKERC research demonstrates. This will take time and won’t be completed by 2030. But there is no reason why we cannot make significant inroads in the next decade.”

 

Prof Jim Watson, Professor of Energy Policy and Research Director, UCL Institute of Sustainable Resources, said:

“This is a welcome confirmation that the government remains committed to a rapid shift to low carbon electricity as part of its net zero plans. Powering every home in the country from offshore wind will mean tripling current capacity. This is possible by 2030, and will bring other benefits due to the dramatic fall in wind power costs over the past few years. But offshore wind alone will not deliver a zero carbon electricity system; and more concrete plans are also needed in other more challenging areas to reduce emissions from industry, heating and transport. Many government plans about how to achieve this are now overdue.

“Bold announcements can only go so far – detailed plans are critical that will deliver these emissions reductions quickly.

“On heating, it is much more difficult to decarbonise all heating systems in UK homes – and it would be very challenging indeed to do so as soon as 2030. It is more realistic to expect the shift away from gas boilers to take place through the late 2020s and 2030s. At the moment, it isn’t clear whether shifting homes to electric heating or to hydrogen boilers will turn out to be the cheapest and best approach. More work is required to demonstrate hydrogen in particular before decisions are made. In the meantime, improving home energy efficiency remains the most important short-term priority.”

 

Prof Jon Gluyas, Director of the Durham Energy Institute, Durham University, said:

“The proclamation from the PM that every UK home will be powered by offshore wind by 2030 conveys the right sentiment that must achieve net zero carbon well ahead of the government’s previous target of 2050 and so is to be applauded.  The UK has made phenomenal progress in decarbonising the power sector and offshore wind generated electricity is now calculated to be about half the price of that expected for electricity from Hinkley Point C, the new nuclear plant in construction in Somerset.   

“The commitment to create jobs by onshoring manufacture of the components for offshore wind is also very welcome and could go a long way to balance the threat to the UK’s petroleum-linked job market of around 37,000 caused by the need to decarbonise and the falling profitability of the UK petroleum sector. 

“However, electricity generated from offshore wind is not a silver bullet for decarbonising heating nor for decarbonising transport.  It is not even a silver bullet for decarbonising power generation.  The UK needs to integrate a whole suite of energy sources in Earth, wind and fire (sun) – plus a little water to ensure a secure, sustainable and ultimately affordable energy future.  The roles of geothermal energy, solar thermal, solar photo voltaic, hydro power, biomass, hydrogen production as well as improved building and insulation standards need to be part of that future. 

“As we slowly emerge from the devastation caused by the covid pandemic, now is the time to build that sustainable future and the government needs to support a wide range of technologies and social adaption to create our Brave New World.

“Electrification of all heating is not sensible or feasible.  It is like cracking a nut with a sledge hammer.  The grid could not cope either and as things stand our emissions would go up because gas-fired power generation remains unabated with respect to CO2 emission – gas fired power stations are only 30-50% efficient – gas boilers 95% efficient.  Gas is subsidised, electricity not.

“We could use low temp geothermal to decarbonise heating in the UK – we are doing it in the NE using water from flooded coal mines – this approach cuts out gas and reduces electricity demand by 75-80%.

“New homes will not get a gas connection after 2025 so the stick is in place but no carrots are available since the loss of renewable heat incentives earlier this year.”

 

Andrew Smith, Principal Research Fellow at the UCL Energy Institute, said:

“Yes, it’s broadly plausible, but we have to be very careful about looking at the exact words used.

“One might think that it means all our electricity would come from wind by 2030; but that’s not true, and although we might consider It theoretically possible, it would require logistical mobilisation of an order unprecedented in peace time.

“Crucially, homes only use a minority of total GB electricity consumption: the rest is used by industry, commerce, NHS and so on. It’s roughly speaking about 12GW of consumption on average (according to DUKES 2020, domestic electricity consumption was 103.8 TWh for all of 2019, which works out at 11.8GW). Now, with the growth of heat pumps and electric cars, that will grow over the next ten years, and there’s uncertainty about how much that is, but it’s unlikely to double. Even if all cars went electric, that would only add about 9GW of consumption; and not all of that charging would happen at home anyway, right: it could be happening at workplaces, or service stations, and so on. Again, we need to pay attention to the exact words used: this is about electricity consumption in homes.

“GB offshore wind currently has a capacity factor of around 40% (see my website at https://energynumbers.info/uk-offshore-wind-capacity-factors ), and so 40GW of offshore wind might be expected to generate about 16 GW on average (plus a few extra GW from onshore wind: we don’t know how much of that will be online in 2030), and so the claim that “Wind farms to power every home by 2030” is entirely reasonable, as long as we bear in mind that that’s just a snappy headline that means, more accurately, that the average output from wind will exceed the average consumption by dwellings, on a yearly or multi-year basis, and will contribute to the electrification & decarbonisation of heating and transport.

“Will it reduce carbon emissions? Yes, the grid currently burns a lot of gas, and every moment that wind generation is higher, means some other thermal plant has to be turned down. It’s worth bearing in mind that most of our nuclear fleet is very old, and will be retired over the coming ten years. Hinkley Point C, and the EPR programme more generally, are still sketchy propositions, and it’s not clear how much nuclear will be online by 2030, but it will be less than now.

“On pricing, it’s currently the cheapest form of clean energy that we’re buying. It’s about £40/MWh at £2012 – we know this from the latest CfD round. We have good reason to believe that onshore wind and PV are also going to be around that price. So that means more wind can mean lower bills.

“In terms of availability of resource, there’s no practical limit really. I believe I may have been the first to coin the phrase “The UK is the Saudi Arabia of Wind” at a Claverton Energy Conference in October 2009, and used it again in a blogpost in 2012, when Dale Vince of Ecotricity said the same thing: https://energynumbers.info/the-uk-is-the-saudi-arabia-of-wind-energy . What we mean is that the potential for UK offshore wind, in terms of GW electricity deliverable, exceeds Saudi Arabia’s oil & gas production, when we measure that chemical energy in GW.

“And for storage: the implications fill a much broader range of possibilities. It may mean very little for storage, if we keep a lot of fossil-gas storage online, and a lot of CCGT available for operation, but just not producing most of the time. That is to say, we could just keep using the same storage that we use at the moment. Or we could use the coming decade to develop new storage, and there are a bunch of available technologies that have at least reached prototype stage: the question isn’t whether it can be done, but which combination of storage technologies scales up fastest and cheapest. Highview’s liquid-air storage, electrolysis of water for hydrogen, renewable methane, high-grade thermal storage, and so on.”

 

Dr Gavin Killip, Senior Researcher at the Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford, said:

“The idea of electrifying heating requires a huge shift away from the current system, which is dominated by gas and gas boilers. Switching to electric heating normally is assumed to mean the conversion of domestic heating systems to heat pumps. But heat pump trials in the UK have struggled because of endemic poor quality. Heat pumps are not drop-in replacements for central heating boilers, so we need a competent workforce for design and installation. At the moment, that competence is lacking. Nor should we blame the industry solely: they operate in a sector which is characterised by low skills, low productivity, low wages and poor job security. In the current market the demand is not for high-quality work that is compatible with carbon targets. The whole market needs to be transformed, and that requires leadership from government.

“The problem is not really about technology; it’s about governance and institutions.

“Decarbonising domestic heating is a construction industry problem, not an energy industry problem. And successive governments have failed to grasp the nettle on this issue, meaning that we are no further forward now than we were ten or twenty years ago.

“When you look in detail at the way the construction sector operates, the starting point is almost completely the opposite of what is needed. That is not to say that it can’t be changed, but the scale of the change should not be under-estimated. In that context, the idea of a 2030 target for converting all 28million homes to be heated by electricity from wind is unrealistic.”

 

 

Declared interests

Prof Gluyas: My post at Durham was initially supported by Dong (now Ørsted) but I have never received research or other funding from them.  I am co-founder of the UK CCS Research centre and co-founder and originator of BritGeothermal – effectively a national body for geothermal energy research.  I have had minor funding from UKCCSRC in the past but none now and no funding from BritGeothermal.  As Executive Director for Durham Energy Institute I am an advocate for sustainable, net zero carbon energy future for the UK and the planet.

Mr Smith: no interests to declare.

Dr Killip: no interests.

Prof Watson: No particular interests to declare on this one

Prof Bell: I hold the Scottish Power Chair in Smart Grids at the University of Strathclyde. Scottish Power sponsors the Chair, not the individual appointed to the position. I speak as an independent academic. I have had various research projects over the years with the electricity companies, but only on the condition that results are published and, from my point of view, with the aim helping to improve engineering practice. I have also done work with Government and Ofgem. As a Chartered Engineer I have to uphold certain principles of honesty and ethics. For more on my background, work and associations, see http://www.strath.ac.uk/staff/bellkeithprof/.”

No others received.

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