A Carbon-Free Grid by 2035?

  • New report from UK’s Climate Change Committee proposes legally-enforceable carbon budget including decarbonising electricity by 2035
  • Plan requires 400TWh of new low-carbon energy, predominantly from offshore wind
  • World’s largest ever offshore wind farm has reached financial close for its first two phases, and should start generating electricity in 2023

Sixth carbon budget

The latest report from the UK’s Climate Change Committee (CCC) has recommended the committee’s first legally binding carbon budget for the period 2033-37 in support of the government’s target of a net-zero economy by 2050. The sixth carbon budget proposes a near-complete decarbonisation of UK electricity as well as a 75% reduction (from 2018 levels) of fossil fuel emissions by 2035.

Several scenarios, including a core “balanced pathway”, towards achieving near-zero carbon emissions across the UK economy are mapped out in the report. All but the “Headwinds” scenario for electricity supply assume a total phase-out of “unabated fossil fuel” (coal and gas) power by 2035, with variable renewables (offshore wind, onshore wind and solar) set to increase from providing 25% of electricity generation in 2020 to 70% by 2035. According to the report, the remainder of electricity supply will be generated by a combination of firm power (nuclear) and dispatchable low-carbon sources (hydrogen and gas with CCS).

Powering supply

The CCC’s proposal requires 400TWh new, low-carbon electricity generation capacity over the next fifteen years, assuming electricity demand increases by 50% in the meantime. Offshore wind will likely carry the bulk of this expansion, with the CCC’s report anticipating 40GW of offshore capacity by 2030. Current offshore capacity is 10GW with an additional 10GW committed, so the rate at which offshore wind capacity is committed needs to increase during the 2020s.

Beyond predicting that variable renewables (i.e. solar and offshore/onshore wind) will account for 70% of the UK’s generation capacity by 2030, the report is not specific about how much extra onshore wind or solar capacity should be targeted.

Banking on wind

A major contributor to this extra offshore wind capacity will be the Dogger Bank Wind Farm, a 50:50 joint venture between energy companies Equinor and SSE. The world’s largest ever wind farm recently reached financial close on the first two of three phases. Situated some 130km off the Yorkshire coast, the three sites – Dogger Bank A, B and C – will provide 1.2GW apiece, with the 3.6GW total capable, according to the project’s website, of powering 6 million homes.

With Dogger Bank A and B set to be constructed simultaneously and financing agreed, Dogger Bank is scheduled to produce its first power in 2023. Dogger Bank C is following a different timeline from the first two sites, so will become operational later. According to a press release following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s visit to the site, the project will be fully complete in 2026, when it will be able to supply 18TWh of energy annually.

Featured Image by enriquelopezgarre from Pixabay

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