The Conservatives’ aspiration to deliver 40GW of offshore turbines by the end of the decade lacks puff in its intended decarbonisation of the UK grid, Imperial College engineers tell prime minister Johnson today (Tues 8th June).
Britain should instead be building out to at least 108GW of offshore wind by 2035, the college’s Energy Futures Lab urges. That year is the prime minister’s accelerated deadline for cutting 78% of 1990-level emissions.
Radically upscaled wind generation, hooked up to at least 100GW of utility-scale batteries now tumbling in price, offer best value if Britain is to stand any chance of reaching Johnson’s goal, say Imperial’s scientists. The nation’s grid-linked storage now stands at less than 5GW.
“We can’t afford to burn more fossil fuels to meet demand [for electricity expected by 2035]”, the paper’s co-author Professor Tim Green comments.“So we need to invest now in the technologies that can deliver green electricity in the most cost-effective way”.
“The technology mix will be different in different countries. In Britain, it’s clear the system will be dominated by wind power with batteries picking up a lot of the slack when wind is low.”
Solar electricity will play only ‘a small role’ in the UK’s charge to Net Zero, the Imperial team believes.
New onshore wind parks in England in effect ceased in 2015, stifled by Conservative backbenchers such as Chris Heaton-Harris, co-author in 2012 of a protest manual “Together Against Wind, and since 2019 Johnson’s junior transport minister.
“The Prime Minister says he wants the UK to be the Saudi Arabia of wind”, said Dr Marko Aunedi, lead author of the Imperial report.
“But it’s clear from this work that the target he’s set, while certainly ambitious and challenging to realise, just won’t get us anywhere near where we need to be,”.
“We actually need to go much further.”
The Imperial target of 108GW offshore exceeds even the industry’s own advocates. Last month RenewableUK called for 30GW of new onshore turbines, plus dedicated capacity targets for turbines turning seawater to hydrogen, and wind-powered shipping. Up to 31,000 jobs can be created by 2035, RenewableUK’s Nathan Bennett estimates.
Away from advising Whitehall, Professor Tim Green, co-director of Imperial’s Energy Futures Labwas a key originator in the Riding Sunbeams programme, generating DC power from trackside solar arrays to drive electric trains along British, and potentially international, railways.
Prof Green’s involvement in Riding Sunbeams began after community resistance in 2013 in Balcombe, Sussex in protest against planned fracking by Cuadrilla.