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.