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New report finds “very high levels of offshore wind possible” in future UK energy system if integration challenges are addressed

A new report has found the future UK electricity system could handle up to 150GW of offshore wind, as long as essential technical integration and market reforms were delivered.

The analysis by Energy Systems Catapult underlines the important role for offshore wind as the workhorse of the power system in the coming decades.

Following the Offshore Wind Sector Deal between Government and industry, and the subsequent adoption of the 40GW deployment target for offshore wind by 2030, the Offshore Wind Industry Council (OWIC) established a Task Force to ‘Solve the Integration Challenge’.

Energy Systems Catapult was commissioned by OWIC to:

  • Consider the impact of very high levels of offshore wind on the energy system, and how these impacts could be mitigated; and
  • Identify opportunities to strengthen offshore wind’s role in delivering innovative solutions to system integration.

The report “Solving the offshore wind integration challenge”, draws on the Catapult’s internationally-renowned whole system modelling capabilities to analyse a large number of possible future energy system configurations.

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Solving the offshore wind integration challenge

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The analysis found:

  • At least 50-70GW of offshore wind was deployed in almost all scenarios to 2050, underlining its important future role in the UK energy system.
  • Credible systems are possible at significantly higher levels, with up to 150GW systems modelled.
  • Hydrogen plays an important role in decarbonising certain sectors, particularly industry and some transport and heating.
  • Future systems with a diverse generation mix, including clean thermal and nuclear power, have advantages over a system dominated by a single technology.
  • Reform of electricity markets is essential to unlock the potential of offshore wind, and ensure a more flexible demand side is established to match higher penetrations of wind.

Energy Systems Catapult, Director of Strategy and Performance Guy Newey, said: “Achieving Net Zero UK carbon emissions by mid-century will likely involve integrating very high levels of renewables into the wider energy system – particularly offshore wind generation.

“This integration presents a considerable and multi-faceted challenge, but our analysis shows it is achievable, if the right reforms, both technical and market, are put in place.

“This gives the UK an opportunity not only to consolidate its world leading position in the deployment of offshore wind, but to use this position to accelerate deployment and integration of complementary technologies, such as hydrogen and other storage and flexibility solutions, which are essential to the energy system.

“Policymakers need to think carefully about how to unlock a diverse generation mix. Significant back-up plant, in the form of clean thermal generation, is required at high levels of offshore wind penetration to cover rare, protracted winter periods of low wind.

“Extensive storage and flexibility is also required, with electric, thermo-mechanical, thermal and gaseous storage all being deployed alongside interconnectors. Demand side management is important from domestic and district level thermal storage, as well as hydrogen production and storage.”

“To enable successful deployment, both of offshore wind and of the critical storage and flexibility solutions, coordinated evolution of policy, regulatory and market frameworks is essential.”

The Co-Chair of the Offshore Wind Industry Council, and UK Country Manager for Vattenfall, Danielle Lane, said: “This report strengthens the case for maximising the deployment of offshore wind in the decades ahead to reach net zero emissions as swiftly as possible.

“This technology is set to become the backbone of our future energy system, not only generating vast quantities of clean electricity but also playing a leading role in the production of renewable hydrogen which will build greater flexibility into the system. As this report makes clear, building the right policy framework to accelerate this transition is vital to ensure we make the most of these innovative technologies”.

Other findings in “Solving the offshore wind integration challenge”, included:

  • Both grid congestion and grid stability, connection and control challenges increase with high levels of renewables. The tools and techniques to manage these aspects (including a wide range of smart grid technologies and philosophies) already exist, and offshore wind can potentially contribute to the solution.
  • To maintain grid reliability, procurement of greater volumes and different types of system services will be required, together with new control paradigms, traditional non-generating assets, storage, interconnection and smart grid solutions.
  • The pace at which offshore wind can transition away from policy support is dependent on evolving the wider market and investment conditions – both for offshore wind and for the energy system more generally. Well-coordinated evolution of the policy and regulatory framework is therefore essential, in parallel with market design reforms.
  • This transition depends on market arrangements that can unlock greater flexibility in supply and particularly demand – which could be provided by complementary assets and business models.
  • The report therefore recommends policy changes for both near term CfD scheme evolution and longer-term market vision, to encourage decarbonisation, flexibility, system integration and a reduction of market distortion effects. Additionally, some marginal but essential back-up plant may require out-of-market mechanisms to ensure security of supply.
  • There are significant requirements and opportunities for further innovation across and beyond the energy sector. Recommendations are made spanning technological, organisational, and market, policy and regulatory spaces.
  • Even with extensive storage and flexibility, some curtailment of offshore wind remains cost-competitive with alternative solutions, such as even greater electricity and hydrogen infrastructure.

OWIC commissioned Energy Systems Catapult (ESC) and Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult (OREC) to deliver a project to address this integration challenge in two workstreams. These two workstreams provide complementary perspectives on different aspects of the potential role and integration of offshore wind and hydrogen into the energy system.

  • Workstream A – ESC examined optimisation of the whole UK energy system (across all vectors) with increasing deployment of offshore wind generation, and the impacts on system requirements, integration, and market, policy and regulatory development.
  • Workstream B – OREC explored the opportunities for hydrogen generation and use coupled with offshore wind generation, including the potential for export of both hydrogen and electricity, a potential development roadmap, and the likely economic benefits to the UK.

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