By Paul Homewood
Ed Miliband announced Labour’s new Energy Policy at the Party Conference last year. Its centrepiece is a commitment to totally decarbonise power generation by 2030, to be achieved by doubling onshore wind, trebling solar power and quadrupling offshore wind.
You may recall the computer modelling work done by John Brown a few weeks ago, which used 2022 generation data to assess how much wind power capacity we would need if electrolysis was employed to provide hydrogen to back up the grid.
John and I have used the same model to plug in Labour’s plans for wind and solar. Unsurprisingly, but frighteningly, it shows that Miliband’s numbers simply don’t stack up.
First, a few basic assumptions:
- Demand in 2030 is 20% higher than now, factoring in EVs and heat pumps. This figure will, of course, rise dramatically in the following years, but for now we are concentrating only on 2030.
- The model is based on BMRS data, which does not include embedded generation, such as small wind and solar farms. Instead these appear as lower demand as far as BMRS is concerned. The model results however are not affected.
- We have assumed that, on top of wind and solar, the UK has 10 GW of dispatchable capacity, such as nuclear, biomass and hydro.
- There is no electricity generated from hydrogen – there seems to be no way that bulk hydrogen infrastructure – electrolysers, steam reformers, distribution networks and a 50GW fleet of new hydrogen burning power stations – could be ready by 2030.
- Equally there is no Carbon Capture power generation available.
- There are no electricity imports. (See discussion below)
- There is no major expansion of battery storage to the scale needed.
A few basic numbers:
- Peak demand is 56.5 GW
- Average demand is 35.8 GW, adding up to 314 TWh
- Wind, Solar and Others generation are 204, 33 and 88 TWh respectively, giving a total of 325 TWh
You can probably see Labour’s thinking, that there is enough generation to meet demand!
But, as we know, the wind does not always blow, and the sun does not always shine. And this is where the model gets interesting, and not a little scary.
Using 2022 data, the model finds that the power deficit peaks at 41 GW, a 5-minute period when demand is 56 GW and generation 15 GW. It is of course possible to smooth the peaks to a small extent with the help of demand side response and battery storage.
But more critical is the fact that there was a 19-day period last December when there was a rising cumulative power deficit of about 7TWh, at an average of 15.7 GW. Although within this period there were short spells when generation exceeded demand, the net balance remained negative. Put simply, even with smoothing and storage there would not have been enough electricity to go round.
This spell unsurprisingly coincided with the cold snap that month. And as we know too well, we could be facing much colder weather, and over a much longer period than 19 days in years to come. Our model shows that we need at least 7 TWh of storage, but a proper safety reserve would need much more than that.
The model also finds that there would be a shortage of power for 48% of the year, and a surplus for 52%.
As well as the deficit side of the equation, we must not forget that over the year a surplus of 531 TWh builds up, peaking at 44 GW. Without hydrogen infrastructure, most of this will either have to be exported or thrown away.
The model does not allow for imports of electricity. Currently we have 7.4 GW of interconnector capacity, excluding the Irish ones – (If we are short of wind power, it is a pretty good bet Ireland will be as well!). According to DESNZ, this could grow to 17 GW by 2030.
According to our model though, the power deficit would be above 17 GW for more than a tenth of the year, so clearly we cannot simply rely on imports, which in any case would be incredibly risky and make a nonsense of claims of energy security.
For instance, during that 19 day spell in December, there was one 9-hour period when the power deficit averaged 22 GW. Other days were similarly bad.
And just as we will still be critically short of power even with interconnectors, they will not have enough capacity to get rid of all of the surplus electricity produced.
Demand will of course carry on increasing in the years after 2030, as more EVs and heat pumps appear on the scene. Power shortages will therefore become more frequent and larger, even if more wind farms are built.
As before, John Brown is happy to answer any queries and provide his modelling data on request.
His email is: firstname.lastname@example.org