A new study has claimed that a global electricity network powered exclusively by renewables is possible by 2050, and will be cheaper than today’s system.
The report was carried out by Finland’s Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT) and the Energy Watch Group (EWG), an international non-profit that includes scientists and politicians. Presenting their results on the sidelines of the COP23 climate conference in Bonn, the researchers said that existing renewables potential, coupled with storage, could meet global demand by the middle of the century.
By that point, the planet’s increased population is predicted to consume around 48,800TWh of electricity per annum, roughly double what Is used currently. However, the authors of the study estimate the total levelised cost of electricity (LCOE) from 100% renewables in 2050 will be €52/MWh (including curtailment, storage and some grid costs), compared to €70/MWh in 2015.
“A full decarbonisation of the electricity system by 2050 is possible for lower system cost than today based on available technology,” said lead author Christian Breyer, LUT Professor of Solar Economy and chairman of the EWG Scientific Board. “Energy transition is no longer a question of technical feasibility or economic viability, but of political will.”
According to the researchers, solar PV and battery storage will be at the heart of the transition. Rapidly falling costs for both technologies will encourage widespread adoption, with solar making up 69% of the energy mix by 2050. Total storage output is expected to increase from 33TWh to 15,128TWh. The vast majority of this (95%) will be provided by batteries, with seasonal storage coming via renewable gas. Pumped hydro storage – which currently accounts for 93% of storage output – is predicted to provide just 1% come 2050.
The University of Birmingham is to receive more than £11m to help it establish a new National Centre for Nuclear Robotics. The centre will aim to develop advanced robotics and Artificial Intelligence (Al) technologies for nuclear industry applications to help deal with nuclear waste, besides alleviating the need to send humans into hazardous environments.
It will also help to maintain and monitor the UK’s existing nuclear power stations, and facilitate the safe building and operation of new-build nuclear power-plants.
The centre is one of four projects around the country to receive funding as part of a £68m investment from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund for robotics and artificial intelligence projects aimed at improving safety in extreme environments.
The project which is being supported by £11.9m of ISCF funding, will undertake world-leading research and develop innovative technologies to address the challenges facing the nuclear industry, from decommissioning and waste management to fusion, plant life extension and new build.
Ministers are preparing to revive the faltering effort to create a new generation of smaller nuclear power plants, despite an official analysis that cast doubt on the economic case for the technology.
Talks have intensified in recent weeks between government officials and companies including Rolls-Royce, the engineering group, over potential public funding to support development of so called small modular reactors (SMRs).
Greg Clark, business secretary, is keen to put the UK at the forefront of technology seen as a more affordable alternative to big nuclear reactors such as those being built at the £20bn Hinkley Point C plant in Somerset.
Development of SMRs is regarded as crucial to the future of the nuclear industry as it struggles to remain competitive against the rapidly falling cost of renewable wind and solar power. Advocates for SMRs say the technology can help the UK bolster energy security and tackle climate change while creating a multibillion pound export market for engineering companies.