Renewable Energy Investment in the UK

A new report published by REN21 has claimed that last year the UK ranked 4th in the world for renewable energy investment.  The report states that the UK’s renewable investment, excluding research and development, totalled £15.4 billion in 2015, a 25% increase on 2014. Above the UK with higher renewable investments totals are China, the USA, and Japan who were ranked 1st to 3rd respectively.

Wind power dominated the UK’s investment portfolio and accounts for just under half of the overall total at £7.3 billion. This led to the country rising to 6th for new wind capacity with over 1GW added in 2015 bringing total capacity for the country to 13.6GW and 9th ranked overall.

571MW of new offshore wind capacity placed the UK second globally for new capacity in 2015 coming behind Germany which added 3,3GW. The UK however still ranks first overall for offshore wind capacity with 5.1GW installed.

The report also revealed that the UK ranked fourth in 2015 for new solar capacity adding 3.7GW. Total capacity rose to 9.1Gw and ninth place on the overall list. The sharp rise was attributed to a rush to develop due to reductions in the Feed-in Tariff coming into force in 2016.

The UK’s bio-power capacity rose by 12%, (sixth in the rankings) largely due to the partial conversion of the Drax power plant in Yorkshire from coal to biomass. An attractive Feed-in Tariff rate also helped the UK top the new biogas capacity ranking for 2015. It wasn’t all good news for bio-power though as the government this week announced proposals to end the Feed-in Tariff for larger anaerobic digestion installations.

In total 20125 was a good year for new renewable installations worldwide as 147Gw of new capacity was added, a 9% rise on 2014 and a new overall total capacity of approximately 1.85TW.

Renewables also outstripped all fossil fuels combined for new capacity in 2015 accounting for 60% of all new energy capacity installed. By the end of the year renewable installations accounted for 28.9% of worldwide generation capacity enough to supply 23.7% of global electricity. Spending on renewables reached £198 billion, a £9 billion increase on 2014.

Executive secretary of REN21 Christine Lins said: “What is truly remarkable about these results is that they were achieved at a time when fossil fuel prices were at historic lows, and renewables remained at a significant disadvantage in terms of government subsidies. For every dollar spent boosting renewables, nearly four dollars were spent to maintain our dependence on fossil fuels.”

One renewable source not mentioned in the report is tidal. Despite a number of attempts we have yet to make our mark on the tidal energy landscape. That could be about to change though as two Scottish engineers look to push ahead with plans to launch a new tidal energy system despite the extremely high costs associated with these types of project.

They claim that the Crown Estate which controls the seabed and foreshore are asking for a fee of £650,000 to site their equipment, reduced from £2 million, a figure they believe is still too high.

Dr David Anderson and Dr. Charlie Silverton said they launch their 7m wide Capricorn prototype tidal stream turbine into the Firth of Forth today (9th of June 2016). The twin rotored device will be towed into the estuary by boat and then lowered and tethered to float three metres off the seabed. It will go through a number of trials and will be monitored closely for any issues.

If the trials are successful a full scale commercial Capricorn device will be produced in 18 months. This will measure 38m across and will be capable of producing 1.25MW of electricity, roughly enough to power 1,000 homes.

The next step would then be to deploy up to thirty of the devices creating tide farms which would be able to produce a much higher rate of electricity than offshore wind farms.

Drs. Anderson and Silverton though their business Renewable Devices Marine Ltd have invested £250,000 into the project which has taken them two years to get to this stages.

Despite believing the project will be successful in the long term they believe that license to operate that device from the Crown Estate is too high for this type of project.

Dr Silverton said: “The Crown Estate’s licence for our project would cost as much as £2 million.

“We disputed this and they reduced the cost to about £650,000 for the lifetime of our project but that is still too high.

“The Capricorn prototype is not much different in size to my four metre yacht which I can moor in the Forth for £80 a year.

“Two tidal energy firms have closed because they could not afford to stay in business. It is no wonder the tidal energy industry has ground to a halt because the Crown Estate is demanding too much.

“On Thursday we will go ahead with the trial and see what the Crown Estate do.”

Dr Anderson said: “Access to the seabed in areas where tidal generation is viable is being made as difficult and expensive as possible for technology developers such as ourselves.

“It practically excludes small technology developers like us and does nothing to nurture a fertile environment for the growth of a new industry which, we are led to believe, is so crucial to our economy.”

The Crown Estate however dispute these figures claiming that a 1MW project costing around £8 million to build and earns annual income of more than £1m would see the developer would pay up-front costs of £7,400 for exclusive rights to the seabed site.

Once generating power, an annual rent of £2,000 for four years then £4,000 would be applied.

A Crown Estate spokesman added: “These fees help cover the costs of our staff assessing and processing the application, taking into account the developer’s approach to pre-planning, consenting, developing, operating and decommissioning.

“We regard these charges as fair and reasonable while consistent with our statutory obligation.”

As touched upon above the reductions to the UK Feed-in Tariff due to come into effect later this year has created a rush to develop new renewable projects throughout the UK. In turn this has boosted the investment figures for the UK renewable industry for 2015.

With wind and solar projects needed to be installed by September 2016 in order to claim the current tariff this spend level will likely continue to rise for 2016.

After that however the future of new renewable energy projects in the UK is unclear. Already companies are stating that souring investment for projects due to be developed after September 2016 is proving difficult with a number of perfectly good examples likely to never be developed due to a lack of funding.

It is somewhat disheartening to think of perfectly good renewable projects unable to get off the ground due to funding issues but that is what the future of the industry holds.

Also with a lack of investment comes a lack of research and development and innovative schemes such as the tidal stream device above are much less likely to ever be developed. Our country has plentiful resources to provide us all with clean safe low cost energy, it would be a shame for it to go to waste.

 

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