NIC identifies only a small price to pay for renewable energy integration

The use of new and existing technology could mean a minimal amount of cost being passed to consumers as renewable energy is incorporated into the network, according to the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC).

The claims are based on the findings of an initial report by the NIC, published at the end of last year,  which states that 65% of the UK’s overall electricity needs could be delivered by renewable energy generation by 2030. Moreover, that figure could be achieved with “no material change in cost” and shows an uplift of 15% on the NIC’s previous recommendations.

In the 2020 report, the Commission highlights that some 40% of the UK’s electricity system now relies on renewables, claiming that a range of new and existing technologies – combined with a “need to support economic recovery” – are the drivers for the more optimistic outlook on Net Zero costs. The report openly admits that this outlook does not even include two major new technologies – hydrogen and bioenergy with carbon capture and storage – which could have further positive impact on the numbers.

At the end of February this year the NIC reinforced these views in a new report entitled Operability of Highly Renewable Electricity Systems. Highlighting the operability challenges – inertia, short circuit level, voltage control and system restoration – the Commission makes it clear that adaptions to the grid and distribution will need to be made.

Making the most of technology

However, the report goes on to say that existing technologies can be combined readily with new innovations such as grid connection management.

The report states: There are existing technologies that can provide the system with what it needs to maintain secure and reliable supply. Some of these technologies, such as synchronous condensers, have been deployed on electricity networks for decades. Others, such as virtual synchronous machines, have not yet been developed for at scale deployment, but offer scope for a lower cost solution.

So, while it is not clear at present what mix of technologies will best deliver the critical operability needs for the system, the evidence is clear that they can be met.

Therefore, the engineering constraints, whilst real, should not undermine the deliverability of the Commission’s recommendation to move towards a highly renewable electricity system”.

The report calls on both the Government and the ESO to act in a way that ensures operating and system reliability costs “remain reasonable” by focusing on technology solutions, both in removing barriers to deployment and encouraging innovation and development.  This may, of course, be dependent on the outcome of the RIIO-2 pricing structure

If this is achieved, the NIC claims the costs of operating a grid with energy delivered by increased renewable input should not increase significantly in comparison to the cost of the overall electricity system.