Renewables’ record year

Low-carbon fuels grow as part of energy mix

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The government has been urged to back the renewable energy sector further after a record year in which it contributed a third of the UK’s electricity requirements.

A report by the consultancy Carbon Brief last week confirmed the growth in renewable sources.

Wind’s contribution to overall requirements grew by 16 per cent over the previous year and was nearly 3.5 times the contribution of coal, the most polluting of fossil fuels.

Offshore wind farms more than doubled in capacity in 2018 and in September the world’s biggest offshore wind farm opened in the Irish Sea.

Technology advancing

Walney Extension, off the Cumbrian coast, has a capacity of 659 megawatts, enough to power nearly 600,000 homes, using fewer but more efficient turbines than the previous largest wind farm.

Together with nuclear sources, renewable sources now make up more than half of electricity generation.

The impact on reducing carbon emissions is even greater, according to Carbon Brief, because total electricity generation has reduced. The consultancy says the reasons for this are not fully understood but better energy efficiency regulations for electrical products and lighting, and more environmentally aware consumers are thought to have played a part.

“Wind technology is advancing so fast, and costs are dropping so rapidly, that we were able to install a record 2 gigawatts (GW) of new offshore wind in 2018 – enough to power more than 2,300,000 homes a year, smashing the previous record of 1GW,” said Maf Smith, deputy chief executive of trade body RenewableUK.

“We’re looking forward to the next auction for new power later this year, in which we expect offshore wind costs to fall even further, which will benefit consumers.”

Smith said the growth in renewables is “one of the best examples of our country taking real action against climate change and we can all be proud of it”, but added: “We need to continue building renewables in the years ahead to maximise our natural resources.”

Although offshore wind has grown considerably, the government’s new rules for onshore wind turbine construction introduced after the 2015 general election meant new applications dropped virtually to zero.

Ministers had insisted they were giving communities a greater say in where onshore wind farms were placed but Freedom of Information requests revealed they had not carried out an assessment of how the new policy might affect the overall industry or threaten attempts to reduce climate emissions.

‘Awaiting action’

But the Public Attitudes Tracker poll, published in November last year by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, suggested public support for onshore wind reached 76 per cent, with only 6 per cent opposing it.

“The government has said that it’s looking at ways to bring onshore wind projects forward in the future where they have local support,” said Smith.

“Yet we’re still awaiting action from ministers to allow it to compete on a level playing field against other technologies.

“Every recent study shows that building new onshore wind projects is the cheapest way to generate power for consumers.”

Marine and tidal sources of energy, however, remain slow to grow. Smith claimed the UK is a leader in marine energy but called for more government support.

“Wave and tidal energy has enormous potential and some full-scale projects are already up and running,” he said. “But at the moment there’s no system of financial support from government to develop the sector on the scale we need.

“We’re highlighting to ministers that there are clear commercial benefits of backing innovative technologies and investing in UK knowhow. This could mean, for example, using tax incentives to attract investment, such as rebates for companies which sign agreements with marine energy projects to buy power from them.”

The government has also faced criticism for ending the current solar power feed-in tariff, under which households that fit solar panels can sell excess energy to the national grid.

The scheme will end in April, after which anyone fitting new solar panels will be expected to supply excess power to the national grid for free.

The change will not affect households already covered under the scheme, and the government said it is developing a replacement scheme that may yet give energy suppliers incentives to continue to pay for household solar.

Main image: Walney Extension, the world’s largest offshore wind farm, opened in September. Photo: Rob Arnold/Alamy

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