Building a 100% renewable – and affordable – energy system is challenging for any country
Building a 100% renewable – and affordable – energy system is challenging for any country, but for the UK it is particularly difficult. Solar power is likely to be the biggest contributor to low carbon energy worldwide in the coming decades, but it is most suited to hot countries that require most energy in the summer months to power air-conditioning. The UK, where our energy demand is highest in winter, is just not that suited to solar power.
So what about wind? Britain is a windy island with a long coastline that makes it a prime location for fleets of wind turbines dotted around the country. Recent cost reductions achieved in the wind industry have made this an even more attractive proposition – but the wind does not always blow.
An energy system highly reliant on a weather-dependent technology will always be vulnerable to extreme weather events or even just a cold snap in winter.
This concern is particularly relevant this month. In a new report I’ve written for Policy Exchange, I plotted the combined solar and wind output for January 2017 for the UK. Solar output, as expected, was almost negligible in a dark winter month compared to summertime. Wind output was high but extremely variable.
In the second week of the month, British windfarms generated around six gigawatts of electricity almost continuously (about 10% of total peak electricity demand), but in the following week this fell by a factor of six. If the UK decides to pursue 100% renewable energy it will need a strategy to meet demand in a cold week in January.