The New Baseload: Renewables + Flexibility

9th May 2019
Urban Reserve

By Mark Tarry, Managing Director, Urban Reserve

The UK has placed itself on a low carbon trajectory, with legally binding climate change targets to reduce greenhouse gases by 80% by 2050. These targets could soon be further strengthened to achieve #Net Zero emissions by 2050. The recent report by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) set out the need to create a decarbonised energy system to achieve this, one which could power homes and businesses as well as transport and heating systems.

Translating this target into the energy sector means transforming our entire system: shifting our generation from large-scale, thermal power plants to decentralised, low carbon energy. The CCC’s report took a ‘cautious approach’ to renewable generation, assuming 60% of the UK’s energy capacity would come from renewable energy by 2050, yet others have been more optimistic: in its most recent Future Energy Scenarios, National Grid predicts that up to three quarters  will come from renewable energy by 2050, and up to 65% of our generation capacity could be local.

Much progress has already been made: renewables are on track to overtake fossil fuels as the UK’s primary electricity source by 2020, with low carbon technology already providing over half of our electricity. Yet the growth of renewables also presents challenges.

Overcoming intermittency

An increase in renewables on the grid means greater intermittency of supply, making it harder to balance supply and demand and potentially increasing price volatility in the market. We still require a constant and highly flexible supply of dispatchable power to keep the system balanced, and this need will become even more important as our demand for power grows and consumption habits change: National Grid forecast 36 million electric vehicles on our roads by 2040 which, combined with the anticipated electrification of heat, could place further strain on the system: the electrification of transport and heating would double electricity demand in a net-zero UK, according to the CCC

The UK’s current energy policy framework expects the traditional role of large gas or coal power stations to be replaced by a new fleet of nuclear plant.

However, large power stations are not the best way to attain flexibility in the system. Responsive, flexible and decentralised sources can also fulfil this role, from batteries and large industrial assets to gas peaking plants placed close to areas of high demand. These sources can offer different types of flexibility – from real-time frequency response to short term flexibility during half hourly periods of peak demand and even longer stretches to respond to longer periods of imbalance caused by weather events or unplanned outages. A new fleet of thermal plant will also be costly: the planned 3GW nuclear site at Hinkley Point C alone is forecast to cost bill payers £20 billion.

Largescale thermal plants connected directly to the transmission network also do little to address the localised constraints that the pressure from our changing demand habits will create for distribution networks, particularly in urban and built-up areas. The CCC report acknowledges that system flexibility will be vital across electricity networks to make demand peaks more manageable and enable ‘maximum use’ of renewable generation.

Renewables combined with flexibility creates a new baseload that is more suitable for a low carbon, decentralised energy system, helping the UK to meet its carbon targets in the most cost-effective way.

Power where it’s needed most

AMP Clean Energy’s fleet of Urban Reserve flexible generation plants are helping to enable more renewables on the system by generating electricity in areas where it’s needed most. Located in areas of high demand and low generation, these flexible gas peaking plants can respond swiftly to address local constraints and ensure the system remains balanced. National Grid predicts decentralised gas supplies will increase over the coming years to fulfil this new, flexible role in the system – with a target to develop 100MW of plant in 2019/20 and 15 sites in development, AMP Clean Energy is helping to lead the way in local flexibility.

To find out more about Urban Reserve and watch a short video explaining how peaking plants are enabling renewables, click here.