Weather wise, September was a good month for Scotland with plenty of sunshine and strong winds boosting the country’s renewable energy output. On average rooftop solar panels produced 70% of a household’s electricity and hot water needs and wind turbines produced on average 64% of the country’s electricity demands for the month, an increase of 80% on the same time last year.
Speaking of the monthly figures WWF Scotland director Land Banks said “We recently learned that during 2014 Scotland’s renewable energy sector helped us to avoid a record amount of carbon emissions. Given the big jump in renewables output during September, it’s very likely we’ll be breaking even more records this year.”
Throughout the month wind turbines generated enough electricity to supply 100% or more of Scottish households on five of the month’s thirty days. Solar panels generated 70% or more of the energy needs of average households in Dundee, Stirling, Perth, Edinburgh, and Glasgow, and 65% or more in Inverness and Aberdeen.
The most recent figures from the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) for renewable energy generation in 2014 show that 49.6% of electricity consumed in Scotland for that year came from renewable sources, up from 44.4% in 2013, meaning that Scotland reached its 50% renewable electricity target a full year ahead of schedule.
Despite these positive figures Lang Banks believes more needs to be done to tackle the issue of lack of renewable heat sources. The Scottish Government has set a target for 11% of non-electrical heat demand to come from renewable sources by 2020 and on that Banks said “We hope, ahead of the Holyrood elections, that all parties commit to introducing a Warm Homes Act that helps bring clean and affordable warmth to thousands of households in Scotland, by supporting the growth of district heating and renewable heat.”
However positive news regarding renewable heat generation in Scotland was announced shortly after stating that the amount of heat generated by renewable sources in Scotland grew by 36% in 2014.
These new figures, released by the Energy Savings Trust on behalf of the Scottish Government state that 1GW of renewable heat capacity was operational in 2014, approximately 3.8% of Scotland’s non-electrical heat demand.
The Energy Savings Trust report looks at all forms of renewable heat generation including ground and air heat pumps, biomas, waste, and solar thermal and measures growth towards the Scottish Government’s target of 11% of heat usage coming from renewables by 2020.
Speaking of the report Fergus Ewing Scottish Energy Minister said “I am pleased 2014 has seen the biggest step change in heat demand generated from renewable sources, a significant step forward to decarbonising heating. We are committed in helping support households and business across become more energy efficient and use more low carbon and renewable heat sources.
“There is however continuing uncertainty about the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), which the UK government have not commitment to beyond March 2016. We will continue to press for commitment to the long term sustainability of the RHI beyond next year to provide confidence for funders and stimulate investment in renewable heat technologies.”
Joss Blamire, Scottish Renewables senior policy manager added “These updated figures show we are moving in the right direction, albeit slowly. What the industry needs now is a strong commitment from the Scottish and UK governments to help increase the pace of development.
“With that in mind, the UK Government’s continued silence on commitment to the RHI beyond 2016 is worrying. Reduction or removal of that scheme would see our chances of hitting that 2020 target fall to almost zero.”
A further report released last week by Bloomberg New Energy Finance confirmed that new onshore wind turbines are the least expensive method of generating electricity in the UK with the cost per MWh approximately £55 compared to £75 approximately for coal and gas fired plants.
Seb Henbest BNEF’s head of Europe, Middle East and Africa said: “Our report shows wind and solar power continuing to get cheaper in 2015, helped by cheaper technology but also by lower finance costs. Meanwhile, coal and gas have got more expensive on the back of lower utilisation rates, and in Europe, higher carbon price assumptions following passage of the Market Stability Reserve reform.”
Also a recent study by the International Energy Agency found that in the last five years the cost of generating electricity from solar and wind has halved backing up the Bloomberg report.
With the cost of renewable energy now at its lowest, and lower than all other forms of energy generation, plus the weather doing its bit the future of the production of renewable energy has never been brighter. However the opportunity to build on this has been severely diminished by the recent policy changes by the UK government.
The amount of energy generated from renewable sources will start to level off in the near future before beginning to reduce as instillations are decommissioned. However over the same period we must reduce our carbon emissions as well as supply the nation’s energy.
The UK government’s answer is nuclear with up to six new power plants expected to be built in the coming years. However nuclear does not offer the clean energy that wind and solar can and with the cost of nuclear likely to be at least double, which will be passed onto consumers, the answer seems to make little sense.