Renewable hydrogen has a key role to play in the UK’s successful transition from fossil fuels to renewables, alongside a huge expansion of wind energy and other clean power sources, according to a new report published by RenewableUK.
Powering the Future: RenewableUK’s Vision of the Transition sets out a wide-ranging vision of how the UK’s energy system is set to change between now and 2050, the Government’s target date to reach net zero emissions.
Despite the short-term impacts of Covid-19 on energy use, RenewableUK expects low cost renewable power to grow rapidly in the next 10 years to meet new demand from electric vehicles, low carbon heating and renewable hydrogen.
By 2050, RenewableUK predicts renewables could be providing over three quarters (76%) of the UK’s power needs.
The study highlights the huge potential for green hydrogen – hydrogen produced using renewable electricity such as from offshore wind – as a zero-carbon alternative to fossil fuels like gas or petroleum.
The UK’s mix of high renewable energy capacity and strong climate change policies mean that renewable hydrogen is likely to become cost competitive in the UK faster than in other parts of the world.
Renewable hydrogen can be used instead of gas in factories – in heavy industries like steel-making –
where progress on decarbonisation has been slow to date, as well as heating boilers in homes. Green hydrogen from renewables can also be used to power a turbine in the same way as a combined cycle gas turbine plant currently works, and in hydrogen fuel cells for heavy good vehicles and shipping.
A net zero emissions energy system would see low cost wind energy capacity grow six-fold to over 120 GW by 2050, attracting tens of billions in investment, alongside other renewable sources like solar and innovative floating wind and marine energy.
In addition to these power sources, RenewableUK expects energy storage to grow exponentially as batteries and other forms of storage scale up to ensure our power supplies remain balanced at all times.
The document envisages significant changes in the way consumers use the energy system, with clean electricity rather than fossil fuels used to power transport and heating through electric vehicles, solar technology, heat pumps and other sources.
As well as benefitting from cheap renewable power, consumers will have opportunities to reduce energy costs by, for example, selling power stored in batteries or EVs to the grid when it is needed most and buying electricity when it is cheaper. This flexibility will be a key characteristic of our electricity system, and of energy companies’ business models, in the transition to net zero.
The report sets out a series of recommendations to government to deliver the right markets and policies to secure low-cost energy, decarbonisation and energy security. These include holding annual auctions for contracts for largescale renewable generators to provide low-cost power, rather than every two years, and targeting support specifically at innovative technologies which are not yet able to compete with more established power sources in these auctions.
RenewableUK chief economist Marina Valls, who wrote the report, said “This is an incredibly exciting time for the energy sector. We’re entering an era of rapid technological change as we move closer towards total decarbonisation, using an even wider range of technologies such as renewable hydrogen alongside more wind, solar, battery storage and – crucially – people participating far more pro-actively in the way our modern energy system operates, making it more flexible.”
RenewableUK modelling in the report shows that, working with Government to ensure that right policies in place, the UK’s world-leading offshore wind industry can attract £54Bn in private investment to quadruple capacity to 40 GW by 2030 which will provide more than one-third of the country’s electricity, and grow further to 90 GW by 2050.
Additional growth of onshore wind to 26 GW by 2030 means the UK’s overall wind capacity can grow to 66 GW by the end of this decade, providing more than half the UK’s power. To meet growing electricity demand and net zero emissions target by 2050, the UK’s wind energy capacity would expand six-fold from 22 GW currently to 126 GW by 2050.