Renewable-only future

Government says renewables “cannot ensure security of supply”. Dave Toke explains why they are wrong

In an answer to a Parliamentary question posed by Caroline Lucas MP, the Government has said that the reason it has not modelled a “renewable-only scenario (eg wind, solar, and tidal) is that this cannot ensure security of supply”. 

This arrogant dismissal of the possibilities for 100% renewables is contrary to an increasing number of studies, including that published by 100percentrenewableuk published earlier this year. In fact, this study, prepared by modellers from LUT University in Finland, said that a renewables-only pathway for the UK will save over £100 billion compared to the Government’s own preferred pathway. 

It is clear that serious research needs to be done into modelling 100% renewable energy for the UK. This is especially crucial given the increasing likelihood that the nuclear power construction programme will flounder, and carbon capture and storage systems will also fail to deliver in practice. Our study presents several energy system transition pathways to 100% renewable energy in 2050 in the UK in full detail, from the starting point of today, in five-year time steps until 2050. 

The results indicate that a 100% renewable energy system for the UK is technically feasible and economically more viable than the current policy strategy. There are plausible arguments to suggest that, with inter-annual storage, it is also more reliable than the Government’s strategy. The highest cost projections among the zero CO2 emission options are related to a dedicated nuclear power expansion. 

The central 100% renewable energy scenario depends mainly on offshore wind to provide energy, with contributions also coming from onshore wind, solar PV farms and solar PV on buildings. Wave power and tidal stream power may make a substantial contribution depending on how fast they develop compared to offshore wind. Heat pumps and electric cars will reduce consumption of fossil fuels by over half from land-based transport and heating sectors.  

Batteries in buildings, next to renewable energy projects and some run by the distribution system, will help balance demand during a day, whilst long-term storage will ensure that there is enough power during low wind periods. Long-term storage will come from renewable energy being converted using electrolysis into gaseous form. This will be stored (as done with natural gas storage now) in large caverns underground, probably offshore. This can then be turned into electricity using very cheap conventional gas generation units to provide power whenever it is needed. 

The study was conservative in that it assumed substantial increases in motor vehicle use and also an expansion in air transport. Certainly, using lower projections of these two transport modes, the requirements for renewable energy production would be lower – and even lower if advances in battery technology led to the widespread use of battery-powered aircraft. On top of that, the study assumed that no further increases in nuclear costs (based on Hinkley C costs) would occur beyond the estimates published in 2020. Yet clearly, the costs of new nuclear power are going up, up and up! 


To ask the Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero what analysis his department has undertaken of the comparative cost to consumers of (a) an electricity system with nuclear as part of the energy mix and (b) a system based on variable renewables alone; and if he will place a copy of this assessment in the House of Commons Library. (184799) 

Tabled on: 12 May 2023 

Amanda Solloway:

The “Modelling 2050 – Electricity System Analysis” publication presents aggregated outputs for thousands of power sector scenarios in 2050 and shows that a range of different technology mixes can achieve Net Zero at similar costs (Figure 11). This work did not look at a renewable-only scenario (eg wind, solar, and tidal) as this cannot ensure security of supply.

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