Over the past few months we have written about the rise of renewable energy in the UK’s energy mix. In the first half of 2014 it was the largest provider of electricity in Scotland, in November 2014 renewable energy provider more than 100% of Scotland’s capacity, and its high levels of generation has significantly reduced our carbon emissions, meaning we are on track to meet the EU targets on energy production.
As these generations figures continue to rise, the importance of renewables position in the energy mix becomes more apparent. With the growth of renewable energy and the decline or stagnation of other areas of energy generation renewables are fast catching up with the more traditional forms of energy production.
According to the Office of National Statistics the amount of renewable produced energy in terms of the total energy generated in the UK has more than doubled from 6.8% in 2010 to 14.9% in 2013. At the same time nuclear power provided 19% of the country’s electricity. However this is down from its mid-90s peak of 25%, unsurprising when you factor in that since 1995 no new nuclear power stations have been built in the UK. At this current rate of change renewable energy will overtake nuclear in the UK energy stakes within a couple of years.
The renewable energy mix is itself dominated by onshore wind with a third of all renewable energy in the UK coming from this source in 2013. Behind it and gaining ground fast is offshore wind at 21% and a new development approved last week consisting of 400 turbines – making it the world’s largest offshore wind farm – at Dogger Bank in the North Sea will increase this amount by 65% of its current generating capacity of 4000MW.
Ed Davey Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change speaking at the launch of these latest figures stated that since 2010 the UK has invested over £14billion in wind turbines building an industry which now supports over 35,000 jobs. He also highlighted the reduction in reliance of fuel imports that renewables in the UK has given us in addition to cleaner energy.
Gordon Edge of Renewable UK, which represents the wind and marine energy industry said “Wind has already outperformed nuclear on several days over the past 12 months. The gap is closing fast. Renewables are set to overtake nuclear on a permanent basis by the end of next year.”
Other contributors towards the UK renewable energy mix include bio-energy, the burning of biomass, hydroelectricity, and finally solar power which despite being visually prominent, lags behind the other sources.
However, even with all of these renewable sources almost two thirds of the UK’s electricity comes from fossil fuels, 37% from coal and 28% from gas.
I mentioned last week that despite being on target to reach our EU energy production targets most of our heat energy still comes from natural gas and almost all of our transport from oil. This puts more pressure on electricity to come from renewable sources in order to make up any deficit heating and transport create.
In 2013 (when these figures were collated from) the UK government announced that the country’s first new nuclear power station in a generation will be built at the existing power site at Hinckley Point in Somerset. Other areas were earmarked for further potential new nuclear power stations however none of these, including the new station at Hinckley Point, will start generating power until 2023 at the earliest.
So is nuclear really an answer? Although it is carbon free and therefore will help reduce the country’s carbon emissions it is not classed as renewable and therefore does not add towards the EU renewable generation targets. Also the recent Fukushima disaster in Japan has highlighted the cost of nuclear should things go wrong which in turn has reduced its public approval to an all time low. Add to that the nuclear legacy of dirty waste which takes thousands of years to break down surely we should leaving this energy source to continue its decline while promoting others?
By the time that any of the new nuclear plants in the UK are generating electricity renewable energy will have supplanted it in our energy mix. Renewable energy reduces our carbon emissions without the long term cost that comes with nuclear. The cost of renewable energy generation is reducing with each passing year and will soon be cheaper than nuclear. Renewable energy technology is reliable and is proving that it can cope with the demands placed upon it by the grid.
It should all add up to more new renewable energy developments and the continued reduction of nuclear power generation in the UK. Whether it does or not will depend on our government and their energy policies.