The UK & Ireland Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) publishes today a detailed briefing considering the ways all parts of the UK and Ireland could get to a 100% renewable electricity system. The report argues it is becoming increasingly more feasible and can be much more cost effective than for those advocating new nuclear facilities. (1)
The report has been written by the NFLA Steering Committee Policy Advisor Pete Roche and arises out of reports that the UK Government is planning to support a Sizewell C new nuclear reactor, continually arguing new nuclear needs to be a part of a low carbon energy system. This differs quite markedly from the plans for other European states, including Germany, Spain, Ireland and Denmark. Even in the UK, the Scottish Government is aiming for a 100% renewable electricity system.
The report considers whether it is possible to generate 100% of our electricity from renewables, and if that can be done at reasonable cost.
The report notes that new nuclear plants are not flexible – they cannot balance the output from variable renewables like wind and solar. Nuclear energy also has the lowest flexibility and the worst response speed compared to all other power technologies. What is needed is flexible supply and demand side balancing systems, smart grids, and storage, including electrolytic ‘Power to Gas’ hydrogen production, using surplus renewables power, stored ready for conversion back to electricity when renewables inputs are low.
The report also highlights how the usual criticism of renewable energy that it is intermittent can be overcome to create a 100% energy system:
- First and foremost, by reducing overall demand with a comprehensive energy efficiency program that can be led by local authorities.
- Demand management – using various techniques to reduce demand at peak times. This would include, for instance, introducing time-of-use tariffs and smart control systems which would charge electric vehicles and operate heat pumps at times when renewable energy is plentiful.
- Batteries allow surplus renewable electricity to be stored either as electricity or heat. These supplies can then be called upon when wind and solar production is low.
- Surplus renewable electricity could also be used to create hydrogen through electrolysis. Hydrogen could then be used to generate electricity at times of peak demand or for other uses, for instance in Orkney it will be used to power ferries.
- Electricity can also be stored by using Pumped Hydro Storage Systems. Surplus electricity is used to pump water back up to a reservoir when there is a surplus. This water can then be used to generate electricity at peak times.
- Combined heat and power stations working in conjunction with heat storage can be called on to generate electricity at peak times.
- By using the right mix of renewables intermittency can be reduced for instance by adding biomass, or geothermal generation into the mix;
- By increasing grid connections to other countries so that electricity can be imported at peak times when indigenous renewable production is low, and so that surpluses can be exported.
By using such methods, NFLA notes detailed studies by the likes of Stanford University and Aalborg University which shows 100% renewables can be achieved. It has also been suggested by PV Magazine that over-producing renewables is another strategy that can help deliver the 100% figure as well.
In terms of achieving 100% renewable electricity at a reasonable cost, the NFLA report notes a Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) study that notes: “By 2040, renewables make up 90% of the electricity mix in Europe, with wind and solar accounting for 80%. Cheap renewable energy and batteries fundamentally reshape the electricity system.
It should be noted that since 2010, wind power globally has dropped 49% in cost. Both solar and battery prices have plummeted 85%. BNEF says combining batteries, demand response, and fast-ramping natural gas plants for peak power generation helps “wind and solar reach more than 80% penetration in some markets.” When you add in the other forms of renewable power — such as hydropower and geothermal — total renewable generation becomes 90% or more, approaching the 100% figure. (2)
Thus, with a combination of renewables, energy efficiency and energy storage a 100% renewable system is eminently possible, and it would cost much less than the many billions of pounds being projected for new nuclear.
NFLA Steering Committee Chair, Councillor David Blackburn said:
“This NFLA report seeks to lance the charge that it is impossible to reach a 100% renewable electricity target and, even if it could, it would cost too much. It is clear from this report that study after study is showing that an innovative energy policy that mixes renewables with demand management and energy storage can deliver on both objectives. It is high time to move from inflexible nuclear and fossil fuel strategies and truly embrace the renewable revolution. If economies of the size of Germany, Spain, Ireland and Denmark can do that, then it is about time UK ministers and politicians should do the same.”
Ends – for more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 00 44 (0)161 234 3244.
Notes to Editors:
(1) NFLA Policy Briefing 208 on moving to 100% renewables is attached with this media release and will be on the NFLA website https://www.nuclearpolicy.info
(2) J. Romm, ‘A 100% renewable grid isn’t just feasible, it’s in the works in Europe’, Think Progress, 21st June 2019