Meeting Our Renewable Energy Targets

The good news is that the UK is well on its way to meeting its renewable energy targets. New analysis from the Office for National Statistics shows renewable energy, particularly from wind power, on the rise and electricity generation from gas and coal falling in turn reducing the country’s carbon emissions. For example from 2005 to 2012 gas use in the UK fell by more than 20% caused both by an upturn in renewable energy production and an increase in energy efficiency including for example better insulated homes.

The EU targets on energy production state that all member countries by 2020 must produce at least 15% of its energy requirements from renewable sources. The UK is one of the few larger member states to be thought of as being on track to meet this legally binding target as well as all it other energy and climate commitments.

In 2013 15% of the UK’s electricity came from renewable sources. However as the overall target also includes heat and transport this puts us at approximately halfway towards achieving our goal. As it is unlikely that renewable energy generation will have a large impact on either heat or transport prior to 2020 the best method for us to achieve the overall target would be to increase our renewable energy electricity production to 30% by that time.

The UK’s domestic heating supply is still dominated by gas and up until recently had been our main source of electricity generation but in the last three years this trend has altered with the use of gas falling dramatically and the difference being made up coal fired power stations which have subsequently become the largest provider of electricity in the UK.  This has been due to a very low price on carbon dioxide emissions under the EU’s carbon trading scheme (a high price was intended to discourage coal use) and the effect of the shale gas boom in America where cheap gas use has increased leading to a surplus of cheap coal on the international market. UK gas has remained expensive due to depleting North Sea stocks and a far greater resistance to fracking the main source of US shale gas

Gas companies have been keen to stress the fuel as a greener alternative to coal. For example burning it produces only about half of the CO2 emissions and none of the secondary pollutants that burning coal does. These companies have also been pushing gas as a transition fuel as we move from coal to renewables for the same reasons.

However if gas is prioritised as our main fuel source many are concerned that investment in renewable energy alternatives will suffer as many of the largest providers of renewable energy in Europe also generate large amounts of energy via fossil fuels. If is feared that these companies may abandon their renewable projects in favour of more lucrative fossil fuel developments should that be where the market dictates they go.

The trade association for the UK’s wind industry Renewable UK stated that the renewable energy generators were contributing towards the UK’s energy targets but that continued fossil fuel use in transport and heating remained too high. They claimed that for renewables to help reduce transport emissions via electric cars the next UK government must show support for wind power.

Renewable UK’s director of policy Gordon Edge said “Onshore and offshore wind farms have been growing rapidly and are now generating more than half of our clean electricity. The question is whether the UK will make fast enough progress on renewable heat and renewable transport as well – that’s looking less certain. If there’s a shortfall in those areas, we’ll need to generate more renewable electricity to hit the target.

“The cheapest way to do this would be to install more onshore wind, which is why it’s utterly baffling that the Conservative party is proposing to cap the development of onshore wind if they’re elected in May.”

He added that meeting the legally binding goal would require more effort: “Whichever party is in government next, it looks likely that they’ll need to consider an even more rapid scaling up in the generation of renewable electricity than currently planned over the next five years. Onshore and offshore wind are poised to step up and meet that demand but we’ll need the new government to set more ambitious targets early on, in terms of how much wind they want to see installed, or the UK will risk falling short of the overall target.”

So where does that leave us? On one hand things are very positive for the UK’s future energy use. We are, as demonstrated above, on track to reduce our carbon emissions plus the tri-party climate pledge announced last week gives guarantees that no matter which party wins this year’s general election we will continue to reduce our carbon emissions in line with EU conditions.

The most reliable and least expensive method of achieving this is to continue to build the onshore wind industry however the Conservative party have already stated that should they win the election they will effectively bring to halt any new onshore wind farms. We at ILI Renewable Energy believe in a healthy energy mix and that all renewable technologies should be invested in and promoted to their full potential. However we are now only five years away from the EU 15% renewable energy target with further carbon emission reduction targets following closely behind. We therefore have to act now and our best means is an increase in onshore wind developments.

 

The UK’s tri-party climate change pledge

The UK will have its first General Election in five years this May and although no political party has officially launched its campaign. Yet the media presence of the party leaders as well as other key figures is very much on the rise as the clamour for votes increases and the arguments and counter arguments get more heated.

Normally at this time we expect the main party leaders to be exchanging verbal blows as the desire to be seen as the best choice for the voters supersedes all else. So therefore it may come as surprise that the leaders of the three main UK political parties, current Prime Minister David Cameron (Conservative), current Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg (Liberal Democrats), and Ed Miliband (Labour) announced last weekend they had signed a joint declaration to tackle climate change regardless of the outcome of May’s election.

The declaration comes of the back of weeks of behind the scenes negotiations involving the three major parties brokered in part by non-government organisations including the Green Alliance, Christian Aid, and the Women’s Institute.

In the past all three leaders have clashed over environmental issues however together the following was pledged;

  • To seek a fair, strong, legally binding, global climate deal which limits temperature rises to below two degrees.
  • To work together, across party lines, to agree carbon budgets, in accordance with the Climate Change Act.
  • To accelerate the transition to a competitive, energy efficient low-carbon economy and to end the use of unabated coal for power generation.

A joint statement accompanying the pledge states “Climate change is one of the most serious threats facing the world today. It is not just a threat to the environment, but also to our national and global security, to poverty eradication and economic prosperity.”

“Acting on climate change is also an opportunity for the UK to grow a stronger economy, which is more efficient and more resilient to the risks ahead. It is in our national interest to act and ensure others act with us.”

This announcement arrives at an extremely important point in time for the issue of climate change. Later in 2015 world leaders meet to set out a global climate change agreement and campaigners including scientists have warned that swift and rigorous action is required to combat the worse effects of climate change. It is thought that the pledge should go some way to alleviating the concerns of entrepreneurs and businesses.

This has been hailed as a victory in the fight against climate change and has been heralded as such across the green lobby and associated bodies however upon closer inspection is it all that it seems?

Point 1 of the pledge regarding the “legally binding climate deal” is the same as pre-existing EU policy and something which UK as a member state has to commit to, and already has. Also it does not specifically refer to the proposed United Nations climate talks due to take place in Paris in December where a similar deal is meant to be agreed although this may be omitted from the pledge in case any deal brokered in Paris is not legally binding.

Point 2 regarding UK carbon budgets is also a confirmation of current UK policy. The climate change act states that carbon budgets must be agreed according to definite time scales and with the advice of the Committee on Climate Change.

The final point is new policy for both the Conservatives and Labour however it does reflect government expectations that coal use for energy production will have to have ended by approximately 2030. Also unabated coal use will have ceased by 2027 according to projections from the Department for Energy and Climate Change. New unabated coal fired power stations are now banned in the UK and the Liberal Democrats have previously pledged to ban all unabated coal use by 2027 and along with Labour have agreed an electricity decarbonisation target for 2030.

With no new policies or even change of existing policies it can be easy to get cynical about the declaration however the UK hasn’t seen such a show of cross party unity on climate change since the 2008 UK Climate Act which was supported by all major parties and was passed with only five votes against.

It also should remove fears that a future Conservative Government may follow the UK Independence Party’s path towards climate change scepticism as well as silencing the calls to scrap the Climate Change Act from former Conservative Environment Minister Owen Paterson. The pledge should also prevent a review of future carbon budgets, which has happened previously.

The Committee of Climate Change stated the UK’s current generating capacity can meet all but the highest demands without coal and new research published last week stated the UK could generate their full requirement of electricity without coal by 2023.

A 100% phase out of coal would have a huge impact on emissions in the UK due to high levels of carbon dioxide produced in the generation process. In 2013 coal fired power stations emitted 114 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, approximately a quarter of all the UK’s CO2 emissions.

The pledge also carries international significance as well. The UK was the birthplace and home of the coal driven industrial revolution and it remains the third largest user of coal in Europe and 14th of the world. It has been stated the quickest most cost effective way to tackle climate change is for developed countries to stop using coal for electricity generation. The pledge confirms that UK will be following Denmark and Finland’s lead.

It also gives strength to green campaigners in other countries in their quest to get their governments to opt for a similar stance to that of the UK’s. Germany for example has previously stated that it cannot phase out coal use in the foreseeable future.

On the international stage the pledge has also already been used an example to others. In Australia for example Nobel laureate Brian Schmidt has stated that his country’s politicians should follow the UK lead and in the USA the Washington Post has compared the UK’s political leader’s unity favourably to the current climate change disagreement between Republicans and Democrats.

Former US vice president Al Gore hailed the declaration as “inspired leadership.” CEO of Unilever Paul Polman said “The importance of this pledge cannot be overstated. In this critical year, this sets a terrific example for other countries to follow” and CEO of Siemans Juergen Maier said “The low-carbon transition represents a major economic opportunity and this demonstration of cross-party support sends a clear message that the UK remains a good place for global companies to do low-carbon business.”

Felipe Calderon the former Mexican President said “The UK’s cross-party agreement serves as a positive example to other countries struggling to act on climate change. A focus on the simultaneous economic and climate benefits of low-carbon growth makes sense from any angle, and can help bridge typical partisan divides.”

We at ILI Energy support the cross party pledge. It can be easy to question the validity of a declaration which when broken down looks to be no more than a restating existing policy. However it has brought climate change to forefront of the political platform and has created a welcome level of discussion. Also the three major UK party leaders showing a unified stance and pledging to work together regardless of the outcome of the upcoming election will go a long way in reassuring potential investors in renewables providing a welcome boost to the industry.

The guaranteed phasing out of coal based electricity production will leave a deficit in our energy supply which must be filled by renewable energy alternatives. The opportunity for the UK’s next government to create a lasting legacy of clean energy generation is one which cannot be passed by.

Wind Power: Beneficial nationally and locally

Energy generation via wind continued its strong showing in Scotland in January 2015 with the country’s instillations generating enough electricity to power 146% of Scottish homes. The data released last week also showed that wind turbines produced a 27% increase on last January’s output totalling 1,307,629MWh of electricity to the grid so far in 2015.

This means that wind generated enough power to supply 100% or more of Scottish households on 24 of January’s 31 days and for two of these days the output was over 200% of our domestic electricity needs. Maximum output of 206% (60,800MWh approx), enough to supply electricity to over 5million homes) happened on the 14th of January.

These figures come off the back of an excellent start of year for the UK on a whole as discussed last week. 14% of the UK’s electricity came from wind power in January with weekly and half-hourly generation records being broken.

Discussing the new Scottish figures WWF Scotland’s director Lang Banks said “While January’s wintry weather caused havoc for many people, it also proved to be a good month for wind power output in Scotland Even on calmer days, when wind wasn’t at its strongest, wind still generated enough to support the electricity needs of more than a quarter of our households.

“While January’s wind output may have got 2015 off to a flyer, it’s important to remember that household electricity demand only makes up two-fifths of Scotland’s total needs,” added Banks.

“Our recently-published study on delivering a decarbonised electricity system shows that a renewable efficient power system for Scotland is perfectly achievable by 2030. However, for this to happen we need to see a commitment to a 2030 UK-wide electricity decarbonisation target, long-term certainty for the renewables sector, and much greater efforts to reduce electricity demand.

“We’re looking forward to seeing what each of the political parties will set out in their election manifestos that will help deliver a low-carbon Scotland.”

Despite the very seasonal weather January was also a successful month for solar energy in Scotland as there was enough sunshine to generated 37% of the electricity requirements of an average home in Aberdeen, 24% in Edinburgh and 30% in Glasgow.

Karen Robinson of WeatherEnergy – which provided the data – said: “Scotland is clearly leading the way when it comes to wind power. However, despite misconceptions, Scotland also has potential for sun-loving renewables too.

“The data clearly show that there’s plenty of sunshine to meet a significant proportion of an average family’s electricity needs for most months of the year – even during some of the winter months. With hundreds of thousands of roofs, it would make sense to tap more of the sun’s power.”

As well as providing Scotland with clean renewable energy many of these instillations have community funds which support local projects and groups through grants including Scottish and Southern Electricity’s Drumderg wind farm in Perth & Kinross which has now passed the £500,000 mark for local community project funding. The community fund which benefits projects in east Perthshire passed the £500,000 milestone at the recent round of grants.

This year over £55,000 was split between seven projects including £10,000 to help build a succession of walking paths in and around the village of Kirkmichael. This project is expected to cost £60,000 overall and is being delivered by the Mount Blair Community Development Trust in partnership with the Perthshire Countryside Trust.

The project is also receiving a grant from the Legacy 2014 Active Places Fund and will see the construction off a four route walkway covering over 14 miles and taking in the Pitcarmick Estate and Kindrogan Forest.

Other projects receiving grants from the wind farm fund this year include Alyth Girl Guides who have been awarded £20,000 to cover the next phase of the construction of their new hut. Also £10,000 has been allocated to Kirkmichael Session House for vital repairs and £10,000 has been set aside to create a new arts programme based at the Cateran Trail.

The community fund was established at the construction phase of SSE’s 16-turbine Drumderg wind farm near Alyth and is now in its seventh year. Projects, groups and residents of the surrounding Alyth and Mount Blair communities can apply for grants which come from a percentage of the income from the development.

The decision of where the funds are to be allocated each year is made by an independent panel of local people. Mount Blair Community Development Trust director Lucy Holt speaking of the fund said “The new path network will put Kirkmichael firmly on the map as a great place to come and walk in Perthshire. Not only will this provide a welcome long-term boost for the local hotels and community-owned village shop, it will also be a great asset for locals, who will be able to access the beautiful countryside around them more easily.”

Also speaking of the fund and the projects it has assisted Graeme Keddie, head of community investment at SSE, said: “Reaching the £500,000 milestone is a major achievement.

“Over the last six years, the Drumderg wind farm fund has supported key community development activity across Alyth and Mount Blair, including initiatives for young people and the elderly, major improvements in community facilities, and vital funding for sporting, education and environmental groups.

“I’d like to thank the local panel for the responsible way in which the funds have been distributed and, with around £100,000 available each year, I’d encourage any community groups looking for support to get in touch.”

Although not on the same scale each of ILI Energy’s wind power instillations provide a community fund or contribution. Depending on the Local Authority this could mean paying directly to their community fund or as with Drumderg, local groups and projects can receive funds directly.

There is no obligation upon us to do this however we feel strongly about giving something back to communities. Such funds are beneficial to the growth of the communities demonstrating a value which cannot be measured in pounds and pence.

 

Pro-Renewable U.K.

In 2014 the Prime Minister David Cameron stated that the UK population were “basically fed up” with onshore wind farms whilst explaining his party’s plans to block any new development of this type. The Conservative Party has since stated that it will end all subsidies for onshore wind farms should it win the 2015 UK General Election saying that the amount of capacity already developed or in the planning system was adequate to attain the country’s renewable energy targets in 2020.

However the latest public opinion trackers published by the Department for Energy and Climate (DECC) contradicts Mr. Cameron’s claim that Britain’s public are “fed up” with onshore wind farms with the majority of those quizzed being very much in favour of them. Over 2,000 UK households were surveyed by the DECC and they found that opposition to onshore wind fell from 12% to 10% and support climbed 1% to 68%.

Support for other forms of renewable energy also continues to grow with biomass at 68% compared to 5% opposition and offshore wind at a consistently high 74% support. The most popular form of renewable energy with the UK general public however remains solar with 81% of those questioned supporting it while opposition fell to only 5%.

Gordon Edge director of policy at RenewableUK speaking of these results said there are now major doubts over David Cameron’s claim that there is significant opposition to onshore wind farms from the populace.

“It’s great to see public support for onshore wind is increasing, with more than two-thirds of people consistently saying they want Britain to make use of it, and that support for offshore wind, wave and tidal energy remains even higher,” he said in a statement. “That’s why it’s so hard to understand why the Conservative Party is turning its back on onshore wind, threatening to kill off the industry if it wins the next election. Independent polls show that David Cameron is totally wrong to claim that people are ‘fed up’ with onshore wind – they show the reverse is actually true, and that being anti-wind is a net vote loser.”

As the UK public continues to support wind farms they in return continue to supply clean renewable energy to the UK market in record amounts. The latest National grid figures reveal in January 2015 all time highs for renewable energy generation from wind was achieved for both weekly and half-hourly generation.

The UK wind farm sector produced 4.13TW hours in January 2015 beating the record set in the previous month by 13.6% industry body RenewableUK stated. This means that UK grid connected wind farms generated enough electricity to power 8.7million homes in January.

Also the half-hourly record which has stood since November 2013 was beaten last month when within one half hour period on the 2nd of January wind power supplied 31% of all the electricity exported to the UK grid network.

Speaking of these new records Jennifer Webber, director of external affairs at RenewableUK said “It’s great to see wind making such a positive contribution to Britain’s clean energy needs at a cold time of year when we need it most, and this can only continue with greater capacity coming online – reaching 12 gigawatts is an achievement which the industry and the nation can be proud of, but if we’re to secure a supply of clean energy for the long term future, we need all the mainstream political parties to support the wind industry, onshore and offshore, in the General Election and beyond.”

Finally back to the DECC and in a separate report published this week it was confirmed that UK greenhouse gas emissions fell by 2.4% in 2013, chiefly attributed to emission cuts from coal and gas fired power plants.

In 2015 the renewable energy industry in the UK and in particular the onshore wind sector is facing an uncertain future. Policies from the Conservative Party, currently in government, state that they will effectively ban onshore wind farms should they get into power after the next election. Yet the general public in the UK continue to support onshore wind developments.

These developments provide more power with each passing month and do so both cleanly and effectively. This in turn means using less power generated from fossil fuels which leads to greenhouse gas emissions falling.  As the technology is used on a wider scale the power generated also becomes cheaper to produce.

When broken down and analysed there is not many negative aspects and certainly no substantial ones to renewable energy and onshore wind. However this is not what our Government would have us believe. With an election looming in May they would do well to focus on what the majority of the population want, to support and encourage renewable energy.